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As the Palm Coast City Council readies itself to make a decision on a proposed increase schedule for water and sewage rates, many residents have voiced concern over the increase, which would raise bills $4.61 each month for customers averaging 4,000 gallons of water used.
“There’s an awful lot of conversation going on out there,” said City Councilman Bill McGuire. “But nobody understands what you can and can’t do with the city budget.”
McGuire suggested forming a committee of citizens to examine the issue, similar to the one developed when the city redistricted. He also asked whether city administration could develop a tangible way to look at the proposed rate increases.
“In the past, when citizens come forward and say they’re paying too much, we’ve said we could reduce services,” McGuire said. “Maybe we should have something that says … what we could get without increasing utilities.”
Developing something like this would raise some problems, though, because the city’s utility is meant to operate independently from the city’s general fund, which consists of tax dollars. Substituting one city expense for utility expenses is not possible under the current structure.
“There is a certain inequity that comes when you start using tax dollars (to fund utility projects),” said Jon Netts, the city’s mayor. “Whereas when you have a utility that’s properly structured, what you use is what you pay for.”
Netts said starting to use general fund money to fund utility infrastructure raised questions of policy and philosophy of government. McGuire agreed, but said he would like to help citizens understand better how the utility works.
“Citizens don’t care whether you call it a tax or a fee; all they know is they have to reach into their wallets,” McGuire said.
Councilman Bill Lewis said a citizen committee would be inappropriate because the government is put into place to handle these matters.
City Manager Jim Landon said administrators would present different options for funding utility projects when the City Council has its second public hearing at 9 a.m. Feb. 19 at the Palm Coast Community Center. The meeting was previously schedule for Feb. 5 but has been rescheduled. Public comment will be heard.