City Council agrees to bring water rate hike to public vote

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RAPID CITY, S.D. -

The Rapid City Common Council has unanimously approved bringing a planned water rate hike to a public vote.

The special election is set for Feb. 20 of 2018.

The group Citizens for Liberty petitioned the council for a public vote. They collected 2,884 verified signatures from Rapid City residents. The group also asked for a city resolution as opposed to an ordinance. Resolutions require two public meetings, where city ordinances require four hearings.

In November, the council approved a motion to increase water bills by 43 percent over the next 5 years. It's part of a capital improvement plan, which aims to build up a reserve in case of unexpected breaks or incidents in the city’s water pipes. Residents would see fresh water prices increase by $2.

Tonchi Weaver is one of 51 members of Citizens For Liberty. Weaver addressed the council on Monday night, saying a public vote was a matter of keeping city officials transparent. Weaver said some people who signed the petition felt that the council had acted unethically when passing the water rate hike.

“I struggle for proper adjectives to describe the attitude of the people,” said Weaver. “They feel oppressed, betrayed; they feel helpless to do anything about it. They were eager to sign the petitions, because at last there seemed something they can do about it.

Mayor Steve Allender weighed in on the vote on Wednesday, and said that proposing the rate hike as a resolution instead of an ordinance was a matter of making it consistent with other public works projects.

"Water and sewer were in ordnance, so it was inconsistent. It was merely an administrative effort to put them in the same format. And so we're talking about rates for what we charge for a copy, or for park recreation admission, and so on. All of those things are not worthy of a city ordinance."

The adjusted increase in water rates is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2018.

A $1.50 increase in sewer rates is not part of the referred measure and is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1, 2018.

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