CRESTVIEW — The City Council is closer than its ever been to acting on a consultant's 5-year-old recommendation to increase city customers' water rates from 1990s levels.

Since Tetratech consultants reviewed the city's water system and made its recommendations in 2011, multiple improvements have been made:

• Nearly 8,000 water meters, many of which weren't working, have been replaced at a cost of $500,000

• A new well was dug and water storage tank erected, anticipating Old Bethel Road-area growth

• The wastewater treatment plant was been expanded and upgraded.

But Tetratech's biggest substantial recommendation has yet to be acted on: Raising water rates.

DWINDLING RESERVES

With a former $3 million reserve whittled down to about $500,000, the council agreed Monday evening to consider a proposal by City Clerk Betsy Roy and Public Works Director Wayne Steele to raise rates 2 percent, possibly as early as June.

Over the next five years, Steele's capital improvement plan calls for $7.5 million in upgrades and equipment replacement, including more than $1 million each in 2017 and 2018.

"The numbers aren't adding up," Steele said of water department revenue versus needed improvement costs. "If we had started back then like we should have, we wouldn't be behind. We've got to do something."

Monthly increases would have averaged about 30 cents for residential customers had the city implemented the plan when Tetratech recommended it, Steele said.

"Because we didn't take any action, now we're being reactive," Steele said. "Two percent would be a good place to start."

$1 MILLION PER YEAR

Steele said the city faces multiple improvements of more than $1 million a year in planned system upgrades and maintenance, including a second well and water storage tank off Arena Road to serve the Fox Valley and Antioch III subdivisions.

"It concerns me south of the interstate with one elevated storage tank," Steele said at a Monday evening workshop. "If something goes wrong, how can we assure we'll have enough water without the wells running 24 hours a day? We'd exceed our pump capacity."

The councilmen were generally supportive of the proposed 2 percent increase, but requested the ordinance implementing it include a requirement that rates be reviewed every year so a future council can roll them back if needs are met.

"I think that would be fair to our citizens and to future councils so they're not locked into this," Council President Shannon Hayes said.