A 7 percent increase in water rates is in the pipeline for Kirkwood residents. A bill establishing the new rate schedule received first-round approval March 7 from the Kirkwood City Council.

The new rates will go into effect April 1 with the 2019-20 city budget. Those rates will likely be followed by annual 3 percent rate hikes into the indefinite future, said Mayor Tim Griffin. He added that upcoming budgets for the water department will include a 3 percent increase each year, though approval will remain at the city council’s discretion.

“We incurred some costs that were unexpected after the last increase, which was in April 2016,” said Bill Bensing, director of the public services department. He noted that the principal new expense was a transfer of cash to the general fund for street improvements.

Late in the term of former Mayor Art McDonnell (2008-2016), the council imposed levies on all its enterprise funds (water, electric and sanitation) to finance an acceleration of its street renovation program.

The water department originally considered a 21 percent rate increase for next year, but decided instead to ask for a “stepped-in” schedule of lesser increases, Bensing reported.

“This type of increase is proposed so that there is a gradual rate adjustment annually as needed, in lieu of waiting three, five or 10 years and then having a double-digit increase at one time,” Bensing said. He said the money will be used to cover operational expenses, including labor, equipment and materials.

Water rates combine a monthly meter charge and a consumption charge. The meter charge varies with the size of the connection, most being either 5/8-inch or 3/4-inch. Under the new rate schedule, a home with a 5/8-inch meter will pay $10.84 per month; a 3/4-inch connection will cost $12.10. About 57 percent of Kirkwood residences have a 3/4-inch meter, according to water department data.

Usage rates for residential connections will rise to $2.8138 per 100 cubic feet of water (748 gallons). Rates for high-volume users are lower, but also will rise by 7 percent, according to the water department data.

The increase will come to about $1.08 a month for lower-volume consumers; about $4 a month for higher-volume users, Bensing said.

“We will be looking at ways to reduce costs in the water department in the near future to sustain it at the 3 percent increase annually. So we will be looking at substantial changes in the program over the next year or two,” Bensing said.