COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Utility bills could soon be on the rise for City of Columbia customers if city council votes yes.
Council gave a first reading of the 2017-2018 budget at Tuesday night's council meeting. On June 20, a final reading and vote will take place that would set the budget and rate increases in stone to go into effect July 1.
Those increases include a $5 stormwater fee increase along with a 4.75 percent increase to water bills. Leaders within the Department of Utilities and Engineering have said those funds would support the department's Capital Improvement Program.
It's set to fund $40 million in improvements to the water system, $93 million in improvements for the storm water system and $80 million in wastewater improvements.
Utilities Communication Manager Victoria Kramer says projects to replace water pipes in the Booker Washington Heights and Earlwood neighborhoods are already in design.
If the budget's passed, those projects would begin within the 2017-2018 fiscal year. The design would also start a similar project in the Rosewood area.
People living in those neighborhoods have complained for years of discolored water. Records obtained by WIS show the city's received more than 7,000 related grievances in the last five years -- over 2,000 alone in 2016
"I have problems with yellow water coming out of the tap here. It also leaves my toilet bowl with a yellow ring around it," said Miles Johnson.
Johnson says he's lived at his home in the Earlwood neighborhood for four years. He drives more than an hour every two weeks to fill plastic water jugs at the Blackville Healing Springs instead of using his tap water.
"I have seen them on numerous occasions, almost monthly, opening the fire hydrants all the way down River Drive and two blocks over to the south and tea-colored water coming out of it," Johnson said.
He's closely followed the rate increase debate, and he's cautiously watching to see what council does.
"I hope that it works out very well for them. I think we've been promised water quality increases in the past and they have not occurred. If it provides results, I'd be more than in favor of it," Johnson said.
To convince those still fighting against rising bills, the city's holding a series of open houses for customers ahead of council's final vote.
Maria Smoke stopped by the first event Tuesday night. She says she lives in an older neighborhood where aging pipes cause daily headaches like brown water and pressure problems.
"I feel a lot better. I was very concerned about how much it was going to be... How much it was going to affect my bill. I do feel a lot better now. So my only concern is that the money they're raising, the increase, will go to making these things happen rather than just mismanagement of the funds," customer Maria Smoke said.
The city plans to hold two more d rop-in events before council votes. The first will be Thursday, June 15 at the Eau Claire Print Building on Ensor Avenue from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. The second will be Tuesday, June 20 at City Hall from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
A full list of projects included in the Capital Improvement Program can be found in the following links:
- Proposed water and sewer projects: http://www.columbiasc.net/depts/utilities-engineering/docs/news/2017-05-31-watersewercip2017-proposed.pdf
- Proposed stormwater projects: http://www.columbiasc.net/depts/utilities-engineering/docs/news/2017-05-31-stormwatercip2017-proposed.pdf