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Salt Lake water rates to keep rising

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The price of water in Salt Lake City is rising.

In fact, if the economic situation remains the same, Salt Lake City's Department of Public Utilities will be asking for water rate increases in each of the next eight years, public utilities finance director Jim Lewis said.

Tuesday, public utilities leaders asked the City Council for a 3 percent rate increase for fiscal year 2004-05 and a 6 percent rate increase in the next fiscal year.

Having approved water rate increase in each of his first five years on the council, Councilman Dave Buhler asked if there would ever be a year when public utilities wouldn't be asking for increases.

"No, not for the next eight years," Lewis replied.

Following fiscal year 2005-06, Lewis said, the department will be asking for 8 percent increase in each of the next three years and 3 to 4 percent increases in the three years ending with the 2011-12 fiscal year.

A 3 percent rate hike would increase the average city residential bill by $7.27.

Of course, if the economy improves and people start using more water, those upcoming increases could wane.

Some on the council felt the increases were bad timing because many water bills went up last year due to the city's new sliding water conservation rate scale.

"They are being rewarded by paying higher rate for a great conservation effort," councilman Dale Lambert said. "That creates immense frustrations."

Public utilities officials said the rate increases have nothing to do with conservation rates but rather are needed to update the city's deteriorating water system of pipes and treatment facilities.

Lewis added that conservation rates would not end up causing further increases to make up for lost water revenue due to less water usage.

This year marks at least the fifth straight year public utilities has asked for a rate increase, Buhler said. Other parts of the city have infrastructure issues but the City Council isn't raising taxes to pay for them, Buhler said.

"We can raise rates and feel like we are not raising taxes," he said.

Councilwoman Nancy Saxton remarked that the city's water is some of the best-tasting water around. She said maybe the city could make money by bottling its water and selling it commercially, then it wouldn't need such major rate hikes.

"Is there money to be made?" Saxton asked.

Surprisingly, Public Utilities director LeRoy Hooton Jr. said he has considered bottling the city's water and retailing it. However, he didn't feel the city had the marketing budget to be able to compete with other bottled-water companies.

"It's not really our core business," Hooton said. "We just don't have that kind of ability."

The council is expected to vote in the proposed increases during its budget deliberations next month and in June.