Lehigh Valley

Bethlehem residents face hike in water rates

BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Bethlehem residents may be facing a five percent increase in their water rates.

City Council is expected to act on the proposed increase at its next meeting on Aug. 5.

The proposed ordinance authorizing the rate increase was briefly mentioned during council's Tuesday night meeting, but not discussed by any of the six council members at the meeting.

Nor did any residents in the audience ask questions about it.

It's been at least three years since water rates have increased in the city, said Edward Boscola, Bethlehem's water and sewer resources director.

He said the rate hike is needed for several reasons, including increases in costs for maintenance, payroll, benefits and materials.

Another reason is to help fund the water department's capital improvements program, which includes replacing water lines and making upgrades to the water filtration plant.

Boscola said the water department has a $20 million annual operating budget, adding he wants to build up its capital budget, which he indicated has been under-funded in the past.

While City Council must approve any increases within the city, last week Bethlehem got approval from the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission to raise rates by five percent for water customers living outside the city.

The city asked for an increase of 15 percent for those customers, but the PUC only granted five percent.

"Council will pass the same rates for inside-the-city customers," explained Boscola.

He said the PUC only has jurisdiction over rates and customers outside the city.

He explained the water system goes beyond Bethlehem city limits to also serve customers in parts of neighboring municipalities, including East Allen Township, Bethlehem Township, Fountain Hill, Lower Saucon Township, Freemansburg,  Salisbury Township, Upper Saucon Township and both Northampton County's Hanover Township and Lehigh County's Hanover Township.

He said the city's water department has a total of about 35,000 customers, both within and outside Bethlehem. He added two-thirds of those customers are within the city.

Boscola said 95 percent of the city's customers are residential.

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