YORK -- Despite objections to a new utility rate increase, the York City Council voted to approve the new hike effective immediately, by a 4-3 vote.
Before Council could vote on the measure, which increases both base water and sewer rates from a combined $10.50 a month to $21 a month, York resident Charles Harpin addressed council. Harpin, who lives on Kings Mountain Street, pleaded with the council not to pass the ordinance, fearing it could irreparably harm himself and other senior citizens in the area.
"I'm very much concerned about rates going up everywhere. And with the federal government, there's no telling what they'll do to us next," Harpin said. "I agree we need to do something, but I don't know what to do about it. I'm concerned for myself and my family."
Harpin asked if there were any alternate solutions, such as farming water from other cities.
But with the city's main source of water, Lake Caldwell, down by almost six feet, York has been forced to purchase water from Rock Hill. As a result, the best solution is an increase in base water and sewer rates, said Mayor Eddie Lee.
"I don't like this, but we have to do it," Lee said. "We will not run out of water, but we will pay for water. That is a must. This is the worst drought in 60 years, but we'll meet the challenge."
Newly-elected councilmember Mark Boley agreed with Harpin's concerns. Boley opposed the sudden increase, instead favoring a plan that would have slowly raised the base rates over a number of years. This would have allowed residents on strict budgets time to acclimate to the change, he said.
"Folks I've talked to over and over don't want increases but still want an equal amount of services provided. An increase of the base rate to $21 is significant and for folks on disability or retired," Boley said. "It will be difficult."
After hearing from both sides, council voted to approve the increase, with council members Edward Brown, Josephine Castle and Boley voting against the plan.
"I opposed it because it's too big an increase," Boley said after the meeting. "I felt like it was too much for folks to pay all at once. Also because the economy is not doing well and lots of folks that are on a limited income are struggling already. I mean, we have to do something with the infrastructure, but it's a tough pill to swallow right now."
As the Enquirer-Herald previously reported, the increase will be used to replenish funds used to buy water from Rock Hill during the drought. Interim City Manager Charles Helms said that amount could total $325,000 by Sept. 30. In addition, the money will pay for an expansion of the city's wastewater treatment plant, to double from its current 2 million gallons a day to 4 million gallons a day. At the latest council meeting, Lee said the plant is already at 92 percent capacity and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control requires plants that reach these levels of capacity to upgrade. The construction costs could total almost $9 million.
"To not pay for it would be a catastrophe," Lee said. "I think it's in York's best interest to keep the water flowing, and to keep the sewer system going."
Mark Boley joins council u 3A