MUNROE FALLS — The city will increase its water rates for the first time in 19 years next month.

City Council on Tuesday night voted 6-1 in favor of increasing the utility charge, effective Sept. 20.

Water customers will receive their first bill reflecting the increase in November, according to city hall staff.

Councilman Mike Barnes opposed the hike, saying he would like to use $1.4 million from maturing investments to pay for some water projects now and hopefully decrease the amount of the increase.

"I firmly believe that the best use of our citizens’ money is for us to find a way … to pass legislation that allows us to use this investment money for infrastructure needs," Barnes said.

Mayor James Armstrong told Council that using investment money to "pay current obligations is going to cause problems in the very near future."

Councilman Chris Ritzinger said the city would not be in its current position if gradual increases had been imposed during the past two decades.

"I’m trying to fix a problem and not kick the can farther down the road," Ritzinger said.

For people who are having difficulty paying their water bill, officials will soon examine legislation that would assist them, Councilwoman Jenny Markovich said.

With the increase taking effect Sept. 20, Councilman Gary Toth noted the collection of water bills will soon occur on a monthly basis instead of on a quarterly basis. Doing this will improve cash flow, he added.

Deciding on increasing the water rate was the "toughest situation" he had been in as a Council member, Council President John Hegnauer said.

Councilman Jim Iona said the city has an "aging" water system and noted that not having a strong system hurts property values.

"I don’t like raising that rate," Iona said. "But for the good of all, to keep the city progressing, we’re forced … to enact that."

Why the increase is needed

According to city officials, the rate increase is needed to pay for $4.8 million in water capital projects that have been recommended by GPD Group, the city’s engineer.

The increase also is needed to make the water fund solvent. During the last several years, expenses have outpaced revenues in the water fund by about $100,000 per year. Some money from the water fund is transferred to the water capital fund each year to make debt payments on recently completed water capital projects. That water fund transfer is the only revenue source for the water capital fund, according to Finance Director Karen Reynolds.

The legislation approved by Council sets up the following rate structure for both residential and commercial properties:

? The minimum monthly charge is $20.25 for an allowance of 2,000 gallons.

? For each 100 gallons beyond the initial 2,000 gallons, the charge is 97 cents.

? The rate takes effect on Sept. 20 and will be in effect through Dec. 19, 2020.

There are other planned increases in the legislation for each year from 2021 through 2023.

Reporter Phil Keren can be reached at 330-541-9421, pkeren@recordpub.com, or on Twitter at @keren_phil.