Rock Hill council approves pay raises, utilities rate hike

Rock Hill officials on Monday night finalized a $204 million spending plan for the next year that includes higher utility rates for residents and businesses, hiring more public safety employees and pay raises for city workers and City Council members.

Starting July 1, the city’s utility customers will begin paying 6 percent more for electricity and an average 71 cents more on monthly stormwater fees. Rock Hill officials estimate the rate increases will add an average of $7.66 each month to customers’ bills.

City Council members unanimously approved the electric rate increase, saying the 6 percent hike is a pass-through rate increase that comes from the higher price Rock Hill pays to purchase power. Rock Hill buys power from the Piedmont Municipal Power Agency, which owns part of a nuclear reactor at the Catawba Nuclear Station.

The city plans to use the 71-cent residential stormwater fee increase to fix problems around Rock Hill where yards and streets flood after heavy rains.

Businesses pay monthly stormwater fees according to factors such as the size of their building and parking lot. On Monday, the City Council approved raising commercial stormwater fees by 20 percent to 30 percent, depending on the size of the business.

Bringing in more money from stormwater fees will allow the city to borrow about $6 million to start significant drainage improvements, Mayor Doug Echols said Monday.

Resolving drainage problems is an expensive endeavor, he said. With the approved fee increases, the city is finding an affordable way to take “a small bite out of the big problem,” Echols said.

Putting off the fee increase and repairs for another year, he said, would compound the problem. Still, even with major drainage repair projects complete, some residents may experience flooding in their neighborhoods.

Recently, Rock Hill officials used a land study to survey areas that are prone to flooding. In some places, officials say, there’s no feasible solution because homes were built in flood plains or in low-lying areas that are more vulnerable after heavy rainfall.

Monday’s approved city budget also includes hiring 18 new employees. The City Council signed off on hiring four new police officers, a new fire department battalion chief and additional employees in municipal court and other departments.

With more officers on the street, the police department plans to shrink the size of its patrol zones, which officials say will improve emergency response times and enforcement in high-crime areas. The size of each police zone will be smaller but the department’s overall coverage area will not change.

Also on Monday, the council unanimously approved a $215 annual pay raise for all Rock Hill employees working 30 or more hours a week. City employees are also eligible for performance-based pay after annual reviews.

City Council members and the mayor also will see a pay raise, starting in 2016. Council members John Black, Kathy Pender and Kevin Sutton voted against the council pay raises.

The council raise passed with a majority vote, bringing the 2016 annual salary for Rock Hill’s six council members to $16,838 – a $490 raise. With a $770 raise, the mayor will make $26,437 starting in two years.

Echols said residents should keep in mind that utility rate hikes approved on Monday are not impacted by the approved employee and council raises. Utility accounts are separate, and this year’s approved spending on other city government operations – including the pay raises – was done with no property tax increase.