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St. Louis residents could face 20% hike in water bills under Board of Aldermen proposal

A sprinkler waters a backyard lawn.
Eric Kayne
for NPR
Residential water rates in St. Louis are based on the number of rooms in a home, rather than usage.

St. Louis residents could soon see a hefty increase in their water bills.

Alderwoman Anne Schweitzer, 1st Ward, introduced a bill Friday to raise water rates by around 20%.

The bill was prompted by a series of water main breaks in the past year, including one that flooded I-64 in May. Schweitzer said the city’s water infrastructure is in desperate need of repairs.

Then-state Auditor Nicole Galloway issued a report in December indicating it will cost $77 million to make necessary water pump improvements and $30 million to repair the Chain of Rocks pump station.

But because the Water Division pays for its own operations, it has to foot the bill. Schweitzer said she hopes the increase in water rates will allow the division to increase its revenue and pay for updates, without dipping further into reserves.

“The Water Division has been pulling from its reserves to a rate that is not sustainable,” she said. “We unfortunately have been sort of handed an emergency situation, and that's what we're seeing play out right now.”

The Public Infrastructure and Utilities Committee is expected to consider the bill at its next meeting on Wednesday.

The Board of Aldermen has until the end of June to decide on the increase. If passed, the hike will coincide with the beginning of the fiscal year on July 1.

Aldermen last increased water rates almost 13 years ago. At a press conference after the meeting, some members of the board said they understood the increase would be unpopular because residents are used to the current rates.

“While nobody ever wants to go to residents and raise rates, we're at a point where what we've been charging for water hasn't kept up with inflation,” said Aldermanic President Megan Green.

“We have to be able to make sure we can operate a water department that continues to provide the world-class water that St. Louis is known for.”

Open carry of guns

Also at Friday’s press conference, Green gave an update on a bill to restrict people from openly carrying guns without a concealed carry permit.

The bill, which is currently before the Public Safety Committee, has encountered challenges since Alderwoman Cara Spencer, 8th Ward, introduced it last month.

Its current language contains a clause that would allow police officers to permanently confiscate firearms from anyone who violates the ordinance. However, legal advisers to the board suggested confiscation may be illegal.

Additionally, Alderwoman Alisha Sonnier, 7th Ward, and Alderman Rasheen Aldridge, 14th Ward, raised concerns during a committee meeting Thursday that the bill could encourage racial profiling and volatile interactions with police officers.

Kansas City enacted a similar ordinance in 2014, but Green said city officials don't enforce it.

“They are concerned about the legality of it and being sued if they did enforce it,” she said. “And their officers have also been concerned about putting themselves in harm’s [way] for approaching people with firearms.”

Green said the bill will undergo significant changes before the board takes a vote.

“I think we have a shared agreement that we must address gun violence. But we have to do it in a way that’s smart … and in a way that will be upheld in court.”

Lilley Halloran is a Summer '23 News Intern at St. Louis Public Radio. She is a sophomore studying Journalism and Constitutional Democracy at the University of Missouri.

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