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DL water, sewer rates are heading up

The average family in Detroit Lakes will see its water and sewer utility costs go up a total of 33 percent. or about $11, per month over the next two years, under a rate increase plan approved by the city council Tuesday.

Commercial and industrial users will also see their water and sewer rates increase, depending on the size of their water meter and volume of water used.

The utilities department will see water revenues increase 17.1 percent this year and 13.7 percent next year.

That amounts to an increase of $3.07 over two years for a family that uses 3,000 gallons of water per month, a 32 percent hike.

The very biggest industrial user -- one with a 6-inch water meter that uses 1.4 million gallons per month -- would pay $466 a month more over two years, a 40 percent hike.

Sewer revenues will increase14.8 percent this year and 11.4 percent next year.

That amounts to $5.10 over two years for a family that uses 3,000 gallons of water, an increase of 36 percent.

The biggest commercial user, one that uses 514,000 gallons per month, will pay $312 a month more after two years, an increase of about 21 percent.

The service charge on residential meters, now $6.25 for a 5/8-inch meter, will increase to $9 over two years.

The monthly service charge for the largest commercial user with a 6-inch water meter will go from $96 now to $175 a month over two years.

The idea is to put more of the burden on "fixed rate" infrastructure, rather than simple water usage, since infrastructure is where the utility department's biggest cost increases have been.

Separate meters will also be required for outdoor watering, which will cost $1.50 this year and $2 next year. Such meters are not now required.

By May 2008, the combined rate hikes will bring in about $500,000 a year in additional revenue to the utilities department, keeping it in the black, according to superintendent Curt Punt.

The rate increases are needed because the utilities department has been stretched to meet infrastructure demands from new housing developments and annexed areas.

"A lot of it is new infrastructure going in that's not assessable to properties, because they run by city property, or unbuildable lots," Punt said. "We haven't seen a lot of that -- until now, a lot of it has been close in."

The city also plans for the future when it extends sewer and water lines to new developments.

"Sometimes we need to oversize it and loop it back into our existing system -- maybe we'll put in a 10-inch main (to meet future city needs) instead of the 6-inch main needed by the developer. We don't charge people for that upsizing."

The utilities department also pays for new fire hydrants as they are needed.

State fees and hidden taxes have also increased, as have fuel costs. The utilities department is self-sufficient, and all personnel, fuel and other costs are paid through user fees in the form of utility bills.

In fact, the utility department has long been a factor in keeping property taxes down, since it turns over at least $500,000 a year to the city's general fund -- mostly from revenue from its electrical power operations, Punt said.

The utilities increase will put Detroit Lakes' sewer and water fees in the upper middle of the pack, according to a regional utility rate comparison of cities done for DL late last year by Ulteig Engineers.

Average monthly residential water and sewer costs in Detroit Lakes are now at $28.38. They will increase to $33.24 this year and rise to $37.26 next year under the plan approved by the city council Tuesday.

By comparison, the average residential rate in Bemidji is $37.01 per month; in Hawley it's $46.43; in Brainerd $23.91; in New York Mills $40.71; in Mapleton $63.87; in Fergus Falls $33.66; in Menahga $22.84; and in Moorhead the average monthly bill for residential water and sewer is $30.60.