SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake City's water rates have slowly eked upward for the past three years — and they're slated to continue going up for the foreseeable future.
On top of past hikes, some sewer rates are proposed to more than double in the next five years, with a 112 percent total increase by 2024.
That means a "medium-use" household's monthly sewer bill would increase from the current bill of about $24 a month to nearly $52 a month by 2024 — or from about $291 a year to roughly $620 a year by 2024.
This year alone, the proposed sewer rate increase is about 18 percent, which would bring the current medium-use household rate up by about $5 a month. The rate is proposed to continue to rise about 18 percent each year for the next few years.
And that's just sewer rates. Department officials are also proposing increases to culinary water and stormwater rates, starting with 5 percent hikes on culinary water and 10 percent hikes on stormwater this year.
However, the culinary water rate hikes would also come with a rate restructure, so while commercial and industrial culinary water prices will increase, most Salt Lake City residents won't see a big impact on their culinary water bills.
As part of the rate restructuring, the city would also lower its minimum-use rates to alleviate pressure on low-income, low-water users.
It's all part of public utility officials' plan to pay for several major infrastructure upgrades — including a new wastewater treatment plant to replace the current decades-old facility — while also integrating a new rate structure to encourage water conservation and stave off impact on budget-strained residents.
The annual proposals — needing approval from the City Council each year — continue to build on past years’ rate hikes.
"Our main goal is to make sure we are protecting public health and ensuring we have a reliable water and sewer service now and into the future," Laura Briefer, director of the city's public utilities department, told the Deseret News on Friday. "That's what these budgets are all about."
Salt Lake City's water rates have inched higher and higher since 2016, after the city's public utilities officials began urging city leaders to look ahead to major, looming costs.
The city's sewer treatment plant was built in the 1960s and is approaching the end of its life span, Briefer said. The city is also required to bring the facility in line with upcoming federal and state regulations, as well as be able to accommodate anticipated growth.
The new sewer plant, expected to be completed in 2025, would be financed with the new rate revenue plus bonds and, hopefully, federal grants that could save about $50 million in debt, Briefer said. The new facility's construction cost estimate is currently at more than $528 million, according to a department staff report.
There's also a long list of other upgrades planned for the City Creek, Parleys and Big Cottonwood Canyon water treatment plants, as well as a slew of electrical system, water line, water meter and stormwater collection projects needed throughout the city, according to the staff report.
"The infrastructure has given us good service, but we also have a very systematic capital asset program where we are looking at the condition of the infrastructure all the time and identifying where we need to replace or rehabilitate before it fails," Briefer said. "That's our goal. We don't want to be in a situation where critical infrastructure is failing or on the verge of failure."
A second public hearing for this year's rate increases is scheduled for Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Salt Lake City-County Building, 451 S. State. The City Council will consider the rates during its budget process in the coming weeks.
Briefer said so far officials have received a mixed bag of reaction to the rate proposals. Many residents support the hikes, wanting to "take care of our critical infrastructure," and some even believe the city doesn't charge enough for water out of concern for the environment, Briefer said.
But others are frustrated the city continues to propose the increases.
"There are people across the board who feel the impacts differently, and that's why we want to make sure we understand those impacts to our residents," Briefer said, encouraging more public input.
"The bottom line is we have a duty and an obligation to make sure our critical infrastructure for water and sewer and stormwater are in good condition and can operate now and into the future," Briefer said. "Some of these projects are generational."
More information about the proposed rate increases can be found at slcgov.com.