The prospect of higher water bills in Fort Dodge inched closer to reality following City Council action Monday.
The council approved the second reading of a measure that would raise the rates by 6.5 percent starting July 1. That increase is projected to generate an additional $250,000.
It would also raise the rates another 11 percent on July 1, 2012, to produce another $450,000 in new revenue.
Councilman Dave Flattery was absent from the otherwise unanimous vote. One more affirmative vote by the council is required to make the increase effective.
The increase is needed to pay for increased operating expenses, retire debt incurred to drill a new well and make some water system improvements required by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
Officials planned on using some of the $800,000 a year in water revenue expected from the Tate & Lyle starch and ethanol plant to retire the debt incurred for drilling the new well near Sunkissed Meadows Golf Course. But the plant was mothballed, and the city is receiving no water revenue from it.
''We have to make up the difference,'' City Manager David Fierke said Monday night.
One resident, Richard Higgins, criticized the increase.
''My pockets are empty, folks,'' he told the council.
Elected officials defended the increase as unpleasant but necessary.
''I don't have any interest in raising my water bill at all,'' said Councilman Kelly Hindman.
Hindman said the larger portion of the increase is being postponed until 2012 in hopes that Tate & Lyle or some other large water user might open.
''I never dreamed in my wildest dreams that that place would not open up,'' he said.
While a contract with Tate & Lyle requires the company to pay $2 million a year for sewage treatment even if the plant isn't running, there is no such contract for water use.
Contact Bill Shea at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org