Rising water: Dover city manager looking to up rates

DOVER — Residents who pay to use the city of Dover water/wastewater utilities have been enjoying some of the lowest fees in the state over the past decade, according to City Manager Donna Mitchell.

However, in trying to keep up with aging infrastructure and other cost increases, Mrs. Mitchell recommended to members of the Utility Committee at the Council Committee of the Whole meeting at City Hall on Tuesday night that city council agree to a plan that will raise water/wastewater rates in the city over the next four years.

It would be the first water utility rate increase in Dover in 10 years.

Mrs. Mitchell has proposed that the city double the monthly fee it charges people to use the water utility from $2.50 and gradually increase its rate for how it charges its customers.

She said that an average residence in Dover currently uses 3,000 of gallons of water per month and has an average monthly bill of $12 for water and $23 for sewer.

Under her proposed plan, the average homeowner in 2021 would pay more than $50 higher than what they are currently paying and, by 2024, the average homeowner would be paying more than $100 above their current bill.

“Our current rates were at the very bottom (among cities and towns in Delaware) and our recommended rate brings us up a little bit higher and we are pretty close to Newark with that rate,” Mrs. Mitchell said.

The rise in water/wastewater rates will be spread out over the next four years if they eventually get approved by Dover’s city council and are implemented.

“The water rate increases, based on the water study, were seven percent, seven percent, six percent and two percent over the next four years, starting in Fiscal (Year) ’21,” said Mrs. Mitchell. “We also talked about tiered rate for water consumption … The more water usage, the higher you pay for your water usage.

“The wastewater is the same, we had a seven percent, seven percent, six percent and two percent (increase over the next four years) and all the monthly flat charge the first year goes up from $2.50 to $5.”

Customers of Tidewater Utilities and Artesian Water are currently paying the most expensive rates in the state, with Tidewater’s average customer paying $41 per month for water and $107 for sewer. Artesian consumers are paying an average $35 each month for water and $85 for sewer.

Mrs. Mitchell said Dover’s water/wastewater rates are expected to eventually fall in line with Newark, whose customers pay an average of $21 a month for water and $24 for sewer.

Dover City Councilman David Anderson asked Mrs. Mitchell if the proposed higher rates were in response to the rash of water main breaks the city has experienced over the past couple of months.

“Just for the record, part of the reason for adjusting these rates and for making them more in line with market rates, is to provide sufficient money for infrastructure and the upkeep of our infrastructure. Is that correct?,” he said.

Mrs. Mitchell responded, “Yes. The operations/maintenance cost increases as well as to do more for the infrastructure.”

Dover City Councilman Tim Slavin said the rate increase is something the city will need to do due just to some unique circumstances that it faces.

“We’ll be getting now to see what we’ve planned for over the past five years, which is the balance of the way we fund the city is tipping toward usage and utilities rather than property tax rates,” he said, “and that’s a response to the large amount of tax-exempt property we carry in the city that uses services but pay no taxes.”