The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

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April 26, 2013

LEVINE: City faces competitive disadvantage with higher sewer rates

When Clinton City Council members denied a sewer rate increase April 9, I thought about writing a column praising their efforts to look out for residents.

But I waited. Not because I didn’t want to offer good news in my column, but because I didn’t believe the story had ended.

Sure enough, the sky fell Tuesday and we’re back to more rate increases. But at least it’s only 78 cents — well, at least for those of us that only use one unit on a monthly bill. I, for one, am using a much higher volume for a household of two adults and one child.

Luckily for my family, we can afford a higher bill. We’re blessed with not having to live paycheck-to-paycheck, giving us the opportunity to afford these increases, without having to dip into savings or choosing not to pay another bill to afford flushing our toilet.

Others aren’t so lucky. The hardest hit are the lower-income residents and compared to the state of Iowa, Clinton’s demographics feature a larger proportion of fixed-income citizens. According to U.S. Census figures from 2007 to 2011, 16 percent of residents lived below the poverty line in Clinton, compared to 11.9 percent in the state of Iowa.

The median household income is $41,699 in Clinton, a sharp decline from the state’s median household income of $50,451.

What does this have to do with sewer rates? Collections have been an ongoing problem for the city, and lately, a few programs are being utilized to rectify collections. But that is still not making up for what’s being lost through residents not paying. Generally, though, lower-income residents cannot afford increases, especially considering Clinton owns the dubious honor of having the highest rates in the state, putting the burden on middle- and higher-income residents.

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