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Rock Hill City Council approves rate hikes as part of budget

Rock Hill resident Mary G. Dixon spoke at Monday’s City Council meeting in opposition to a planned increase in utility rates. Wearing a surgical mask, Dixon said she needs to power medical equipment and can’t afford to have her power turned off. The council later voted to approve a 5 percent increase in city electricity bills.
Rock Hill resident Mary G. Dixon spoke at Monday’s City Council meeting in opposition to a planned increase in utility rates. Wearing a surgical mask, Dixon said she needs to power medical equipment and can’t afford to have her power turned off. The council later voted to approve a 5 percent increase in city electricity bills. bmarchant@heraldonline.com

City residents’ bills will be a little heftier starting next month, when new utility rates for Rock Hill customers kick in.

The Rock Hill City Council voted Monday to approve new rates for electricity, water and sewer customers that will increase Rock Hill’s electric rate by 5 percent and the city’s water and wastewater rates by 1 percent each.

The changes were adopted as part of the city’s $214 million budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The new rates will apply at the same time the budget year begins.

This is the 13th budget in a row in which Rock Hill’s utility rates have risen.

City Manager David Vehaun blamed the increase on the Piedmont Municipal Power Agency, which will receive 4.5 percent of a planned 5 percent increase.

Officials say the city has had to absorb costs passed on by the agency, which provides the city with its power.

“Because the PMPA now covers its costs, we hope not to see such big increases in the future,” Vehaun said.

Prior to Monday’s vote, the City Council held a public hearing on the budget, and citizens made their feelings known about the possibility of paying a higher bill next month.

“The county’s going to go up in taxes, and the city wants more in electric bills,” said Steve Pursley. “We need to cut down spending.… Too many people are losing their homes (because) they can’t pay their electric bills.”

Mary G. Dixon, who addressed the council while wearing a surgical mask, said an unaffordable rise in her electric bill could cost her the ability to power necessary medical equipment.

“I’ve been on disability since 2003, and I’m on a nebulizer,” a device that delivers medicine to the lungs, Dixon said. “I can’t afford to have my lights turned off.”

City officials said resources are available to help low-income people keep their power switched on.

Councilwoman Sandra Oborokumo said that Project Hope allows residents who can afford it to pay extra on their utility bills to support those who are struggling.

Councilman Jim Reno said he hopes to see Project Hope allow donors to “round up” their giving, and Oborokumo said she wants to see additional funds found for financial-assistance programs.

The change in electric rates is the third-highest single-year electric rate increase in the last 13 years. Rock Hill adopted 6 percent increases in fiscal years 2014 and 2015.

The average residential utility customer would see his monthly bill rise by $6.80 beginning in July. The general electric rate for customers, as set by city ordinance, will rise by 47 cents, from $9.35 to $9.82, and the per-kilowatt-hour energy charge will rise by 0.6 cents.

The council also voted to set water and sewer rates for the new year. The average residential water customer will see her bill rise by 22 cents next year, while the average wastewater bill will go up by 44 cents.

Rock Hill also will raise the cost of certain business licenses. The previous cap on manufacturing licenses will go up to $3,000 from $1,600, while the cap on auto dealers will go up to $10,000 from $7,500.

City officials said Rock Hill has some of the lowest business-license fees among comparably sized cities, while the increase in license fees is expected to generate an additional $60,000 a year.

“We haven’t raised business licenses in 20 years,” Vehaun said.

Bristow Marchant •  803-329-4062

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