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Water Rate Hike Catches Jacksonville by Surprise
A 27 percent hike in water rates has taken some Jacksonville residents by surprise.
The Jacksonville City Council took up public discussion of the Utility Department's annual budget and associated water rate increase on Tuesday night for the first time. By the end of the meeting, rates were set to go up by about $15 for a 5,000 gallon per month user - the usage of an average family. One alderman says those families should have had more of a chance to affect those rates.
Ward 1 Alderman Adonnis Shaw says it's been common knowledge a rate increase was coming.
"But they didn't know how much," Shaw said. "And they could have taken part in the rate calculation process."
When they found out they weren't, Shaw said people were "pretty much outraged. They wanted to be part of the process. They're outraged their rates are going to increase. They just wish that they had forewarning that this was coming."
Speaking to residents Wednesday afternoon and evening, Newschannel 20 didn't find anybody who used the word "outraged." Some could have been called upset, and definitely surprised.
"It's quite a surprise," said Jacksonville resident Don Cates. "I didn't know it was going to happen at all."
"If they need it to be done I think that's perfectly fine," said Jacksonville resident Sherry Blair. "But I think it still should have been discussed to the public. I think we should have had some input on it since it's going to affect everywhere. It's going to affect the community. It will affect everyone."
Jacksonville Mayor Andy Ezard said aldermen knew a rate increase was coming and said they had the Utility Department budget for more than two weeks. Besides, public opinion would not have made a difference in the rate's calculations, he said.
The city has to build a new water treatment plant as well as perform some high cost, state-mandated projects.
"And nobody likes that," Ezard said. "Nobody likes that we're told we have to do these projects, but it's reality. So, inevitably we're going to have to pass these rates on, and we did it at last night's meeting."
As for allowing more time for public input, Ezard said this is the same process for the Utility Department budget as any other year but he was open to changing that.
"If things need to be tweaked and the council members want to tweak the system, I'll listen, and that's fine," he said. "We can always do better."
The new rates will being in January. The extra amount per month will be:
Minimum - $7.38
5,000 gallons - $14.85
10,000 gallons - $27.30
20,000 gallons - $52.20
130,000 gallons - $326.10
Ezard said another rate hike could be in order next year, depending on how much is raised.