Columbus Council hosts Tuesday hearing on water rate hike

Get ready to sock away an extra dollar and 74 cents each month to pay your water bill.

The Columbus Water Works goes to Columbus Council Tuesday for a public hearing on raising its rates for the eighth year in a row, an increase estimated to cost the average resident $1.74 more each month.

Water Works President Bob Tant said that means the bill for the typical homeowner will go from $45.84 a month to $47.58. The yearly increase is part of the water authority’s latest five-year plan, now in its third year, which is projected to raise rates 3.9 percent each year, said Tant. The water works has been bumping rates slightly less than that, he said.

Customers may comment on the proposed increase during the hearing before council, which convenes at 9 a.m. on the Government Center’s plaza level. Council does not decide whether or not to approve the increase, as that power is left to the Water Works board. The board will make its decision at its next meeting, set for 1:30 p.m. Dec. 14 at the authority’s headquarters, 1421 Veterans Parkway.

The rate increase would take effect Jan. 1, 2010.

Tant said the increase is needed to keep up with inflation and to maintain the authority’s aging system, which includes more than 1,000 miles of sewer lines and more than 1,200 miles of water pipes.

“The biggest concern we currently have is that a lot of the infrastructure has reached, I won’t say the end of its useful life, but it’s damn near,” Tant said. “We have to continue to press our investment and re-investment in our infrastructure.”

Much of the initial investment in that infrastructure was a network of concrete pipe installed about half a century ago, he said.

“Just kind of envision Columbus right after World War II, when all the GIs were coming home. They were building tract housing all over the place, and they were putting in concrete sewers, which has a life of probably 50 years,” Tant said. “So you see where we are: We’re beyond the life. We’ve extended some of those lives by relining the pipe. We’ve replaced some of that pipe. We’ve kept it clean. But we continue to have breakdowns and cave-ins and things like that.”

Even with periodic increases, Columbus continues to have lower water rates than comparably sized cities such as Macon, Montgomery and Chattanooga, he said: An average system customer — including industries that consume more water than homes — each month pays $71.42 in Columbus, $74.80 in Macon, $90.63 in Montgomery, and $92.45 in Chattanooga.