CLINTON — The Clinton City Council approved a plan that could provide relief for escalating sewer bills but could be a moot point if voters reject the proposal on the ballot in November.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the council approved a measure to place the question to voters if they want to change the wording of the current one percent local option sales tax to include sanitary, wastewater treatment and street repairs as possibilities the tax, which was approved in 1989, could help fund.

But if voters reject the plan, the tax would remain a 50/50 split for helping with property tax relief and stormsewer construction.

At-Large Councilman Mark Vulich said the issue has resurfaced because stormsewer construction funding is not needed as much as it was in 1989. He said the expected hike in sewer bills caused by the construction of a new $66 million wastewater treatment plant would be a better use of the funds.

“When people get their sewer bills we need to offer some sort of help,” Vulich said.

The current tax brings in about $3 million annually. By including the other options, council members said it would provide flexibility in how the city could spend the money and be a good way to potentially reduce people’s bills.

However, several council members worried that by including street repairs, funds could be stretched too thin and not provide enough relief for sewer bills.

First Ward Councilman Bob Soesbe said he agreed sewer relief should be a top priority but keeping flexibility in how the money should be spent would prevent the issue from resurfacing again.

“The first priority should be sewers but there may be a time when we’re caught up on that,” Soesbe said.

How much customers’ bills will increase is still uncertain, but the construction of a new plant is expected to raise rates more.

In December, Clinton officials approved a plan to hike the city’s residential sewer rate from 4.86 per 100 cubic feet per month to $6.79 in four increments ending July 1, 2011, a total increase of 39.7 percent.

Over the past 20 years, revenues from the tax helped pay off sewer projects in Melrose Court, the Hy-Vee outfall stormsewer and the dredging of Joyce’s slough among other things.

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