City fee hikes get final OK from council
By Bobby Bryant
You won’t see them on your bills until October, but Darlington City Council last week gave final approval to a set of fee increases that will cost the typical household about $216 more per year.
Meeting in person June 29 at City Hall for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic shut things down in March, the council quickly gave final approval to the city’s $11.5 million budget for the next fiscal year, which started July 1.
Included in the budget are a series of fee increases that council has been debating in video meetings for months – increases no one on council was eager to approve because of the economic hits the area has taken from COVID-19.
The increases will:
— Raise city water/sewer rates by $9.55 a month for residential and commercial users. That’s a 40 percent increase for water and a 60 percent increase for sewer, but council members have argued that the city’s rates for those services have been significantly lower than other local towns’ — and that the city’s water-sewer system won’t be able to keep going without the fee hike.
— Raise sanitation rates by $6 per month for households and businesses. That takes them from $22.50 a month to $28.50, a 28 percent increase.
— Raise stormwater rates by $2.50 a month for residential customers and $3.50 a month for businesses.
The increases take effect in August, but city officials said they should not start appearing on residents’ bills until October.
The hike in water-sewer rates was the most controversial increase. Council member Sheila Baccus, the most outspoken opponent of the water-sewer increase, cast the only “nay” vote on raising that fee. (One council member, John Milling, was absent.)
On June 25, complaints about the water-sewer hike poured out at a public hearing on the city’s new budget. “Our aging infrastructure is on the verge of collapsing,” resident Rose Pruitt told council at the hearing. “The (street) cave-ins will continue, the pipes will break and leak, and the rate increases will accelerate until the citizens of Darlington reach a point where all of us are unable to pay our water bills.”
Another resident, Ernestine Lyde, told council at the hearing: “It took years for (the water/sewer problems) to get like this. It ain’t going to clean up just that fast. It’s not going to happen. … But y’all are putting it on us that now we have to clean this up (immediately)? That’s not fair. That’s not fair. … You’ve got to figure out a better way for everybody.”