BAKER — More than 80 people gathered in the Baker Municipal Auditorium on Tuesday night to discuss possible utility rate increases in the city.
The rate hikes were recommended by a consultant three years ago and the city council is expected to vote on the proposal at next Tuesday’s meeting.
“This can happen now or it can happen later,” Mayor Harold Rideau said. “The later we wait, the more (the increase) will be”
The proposal calls for increasing the flat water fee from $9 a month to $15 per month. The per gallon usage would go up from $1.50 to $1.75 per thousand gallons. Calculated based on an average household usage of 4,000 gallons per month, most homeowners’ per gallon total cost would increase $1 per month.
Sewer fees would increase from a flat rate of $14 a month to $16 a month, Rideau said.
Rates could also be raised every year based on the Consumer Price Index, which is calculated by the federal government.
Baker does not have a sewage treatment plant, so residents also pay a fee to the city-parish based on their usage.
“Pipes and lift stations are high-maintenance items. We also have to pay the electric bills to run the system,” Rideau said. Water towers must also be maintained to comply with strict federal government standards, he said.
Some of the questioners referred to the utility fees as a tax.
“This is not a tax. This is the cost of doing business,” Rideau said.
Some of the money also would be used to support the general budget and to give the lowest paid public works employees a slight pay increase, the mayor said.
“Everyone who has come up and talked to me has said they’re for (the rate increase),” council member Pete Heine said.
“It’s not bad,” resident Dorothy Nicholas said of the proposed rate increases. Though retired and on a fixed income, Nicholas said she can afford the higher rates. She also said she doesn’t think the city should cut the police force to save money.
Resident Clint Rogillio, however, took issue with the format of the meeting. “You can’t ask specific questions. I heard that the police department is getting cut. Utilities are going up, but new businesses are going in and we just voted for a one cent sales tax for police and fire,” he said.
“It was a one and a half cent sales tax,” Heine answered. “Even with this, the city budget has an $840,000 budget shortfall.”