Inside Your Town

Bethlehem residents face 5 percent water rate hike

Average bill will increase $16 a year.

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - It's going to cost a little more to water your lawn or fill your bathtub if your water is supplied by the City of Bethlehem.

Bethlehem City Council Tuesday evening unanimously passed an ordinance to increase water rates for city residents by five percent.

Bethlehem water flows into the homes and businesses of 10 area municipalities in addition to city homes.

The Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) previously approved a five percent increase for surrounding municipalities earlier this summer.

This translates to an increase of approximately $16 annually or $4 per quarter for the average residential customer whose water bill will rise from $80 to $84 dollars, according to Ed Boscola, Bethlehem's director of water and sewer resources.

Boscola said the city last year originally applied for a 15 percent water rate increase, hoped for 9.5 percent, but the PUC only approved a five per cent hike.

Almost directly related to the water rate hike, City Council also unanimously gave its final approval to a Bethlehem Water Authority refinancing proposal that includes a bond issuance totaling almost $74 million for capital improvements to the city's aging water and sewer system.

Boscola explained the debt restructuring plan reduces the city's current $9.3 million annual debt service to $8.5 million. That in turn frees up approximately $800,000 annually to be spent on above and below ground water system infrastructure repairs.

Council members said the market is currently favorable for refinancing city debt which also provides the city's water system the capital it needs to repair or replace aging infrastructure.

Boscola said some parts of the city's water and sewer system are between 50 and 80 years old.

In other business, Council approved the extension of a lease that allows the Fox Environmental Center at Illick's Mill to stay open until the end of January next year.

However, the lease extension also requires the center to pay $200 per month rent plus the utilities after Mayor Donchez's discovery the center was paying rent but not utility fees due to its nonprofit and public access status.

The Fox Center is still involved in various environmental projects and will host public events such as weddings until the end of January 2015.

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