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Officials Make Case For Water Rate Increase In Proposed City Budget

cincinnati city hall
Becca Costello
Cincinnati City Hall

Cincinnati officials are proposing a 3.75% increase to water rates next year, and an annual 5.55% increase for four years starting in 2023.

Cathy Bailey, director of Greater Cincinnati Water Works, says this round of increases will help keep the city in compliance with expected changes to lead line replacement regulations.

"It will trigger us into a mandated 3% or greater replacement," Bailey said. "We're not doing 3% on an annual basis now, so that's going to be significant for us."

Ohio ranks second in the country for the number of lead service lines that need to be replaced, according to research from 2016.

The city currently covers 40% of the cost for a homeowner to replace their lead service line, with an additional 30% covered for eligible low-income households. Bailey says the proposed rate increase would help the city pay 100% of the cost for those projects, making the program more accessible for low-income homeowners.

Bailey says the rate increases are also needed to fund operating and capital needs, maintaining financial stability, and long-term plans for customer affordability.

"These customer assistance programs are Band-Aids," Bailey said. "That's not really the affordability solution."

Rates have gone up all but one of the last 13 years, with a 3.75% increase for the last five years. One-year increases have been as high as 8.5% in recent years.

If approved, the rate increase would go into effect for calendar year 2022. The average single-family monthly bill would go up $1.21.

City Council will consider the rates as part of the overall budget, which must be approved by the end of the month. 

Becca Costello grew up in Williamsburg and Batavia (in Clermont County) listening to WVXU. Before joining the WVXU newsroom, she worked in public radio & TV journalism in Bloomington, Indiana and Lincoln, Nebraska. Becca has earned numerous awards for her reporting, including from local chapters of the Associated Press and Society of Professional Journalists, and contributed to regional and national Murrow Award winners. Becca has a master's degree in journalism from Indiana University and a bachelor's degree from Cincinnati Christian University. Becca's dog Cincy (named for the city they once again call home) is even more anxious than she is.