After much agonizing and trying to predict the future, then backtracking and trying to predict the voters, then returning to where they were at the start, the Newport City Council Monday night heeded the advice of their public works director and raised Newport water, sewer, stormwater, and utility infrastructure fees effective July 1st. Public Works Director Tim Gross, reminding the council that the city’s water and sewer pipes are 20 to 40 years overdue for replacement, said the city needs to raise enough revenue that would represent a doubling of resident utility bills to put the city’s utilities on a sustainable revenue track…effectively doubling over the next ten years. He said there may be special federal, state or other grants or low interest loan programs that might come along to lessen the strain on ratepayers. But any way you cut it, it must all add up to enough revenue to put the city utilities on a sustainable operations and replacement program.
So again, come July 1st, water rates will rise 15%, sewer 20%, Utility Infrastructure Fee 5% and a first ever stormwater fee will be levied at $6.80 a month.
During the debate, councilor David Allen urged the council to put a rather large general obligation bond to a vote of the people. That was tossed out by the rest of the council, they saying such broad based property tax supported bonds should be reserved mainly for very high cost items like major street construction, water and sewer plants. Councilor Sandra Roumagoux raised the question, “What if the voters turn you down, then what do you do? The work still must be done!”
Public Works Director Tim Gross said as time goes on and the city replaces more and more of its pipes, the city may be able to win various grants or low interest loans that might reduce future rate increases. But again, he emphasized that it must work out to $3 million a year in pipe replacement work; roughly a mile and a half of pipe a year, whether water, sewer or storm drain.
Gross reminded the council that the utility system challenge facing Newport is being played out in just about every American city. Their pipe systems were installed during the post-World War II building boom when huge tracts of homes were built, an interstate freeway system was constructed and the country was the economic envy of the world. Well, those same pipes are still in the ground and they’re rotting away and failing by the day. And each failure costs a lot of money to fix, only to see another part of the lines fail again.
Again, the rates go up July 1st. Gross says he’s going to make sure the city applies for every grant out there to help cushion the impact of future rate increases. But he lamented, “Right now there isn’t much out there due to the prolonged recession.”