Newton tackles 'unfair' water/sewer rates, minimum charges

After a Newton landlord said the city is unfair in its minimum billing practices for utility services, City Council is discussing the rate structure for water and sewer customers.
During a February City Council meeting, Newton landlord Tom Dixon questioned Newton's utility billing practices, and in particular, the minimum fees placed on low use customers.
"To get services from the city, you have to pay for all of them. You can't just have electricity, water, sewer or solid waste pick-up — you have to have all of them or you can't get any," he said during the Feb. 15 meeting.
Water and sewer customers are also billed for a monthly minimum of 3,000 gallons of usage, regardless of how much water they consume.
"I think these policies are unfair and unethical to the citizens of our town," Dixon said. "It puts a burden on citizens."
However, Newton leaders say removing that "burden" on some customers could create greater problems for other customers or the city as a whole.
Newton City Manager Todd Clark said eliminating the requirement for citizens to obtain all three utility services — water/sewer, electricity, solid waste pick-up — would "represent a loss of revenue." So, too, would elimination of minimum charges.
"There would be a loss of revenue. That is the whole issue," he said. "You would be shifting costs to somewhere else."
For its utility services, Newton faces operational costs, maintenance costs and replacement costs for the city's infrastructure — particular its water and sewer lines, Clark said.
"Those are all costs associated with operating a business enterprise," he said, explaining that if revenue from minimum usage billing is decreased or eliminated, "at some point, the people who use more water will make up the difference."
Newton City Council will discuss the city's water and sewer rate structure during a work sessison set for 6 p.m. Tuesday. Details discussed Tuesday are expected to include the most current information on water and sewer revenues as well as customer usage.
This isn't the first time City Council has discussed the city's water and sewer rate structure. It discussed minimum usage during its budget planning sessions last year, and the topic arose again during its annual planning workshop this year.
The Council took no formal action at that time.
The work session meeting will preceded City Council's regular meeting at 7 p.m.
Other items on the Tuesday night agenda include:
• Presentation of the city's capital improvement plan.
• A text amendment to set civil penalties for violation of the cities soil and erosion control rules.
• Consent agenda items declaring nuisance violations at six residential properties and a code violation for a recreational vehicle.