Council approves 2024 utility budget

The Columbus City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved sewer and water utility budgets totaling $25.6 million for calendar year 2024.

The sewer budget totaled $17.2 million, while the water budget will be $8.4 million, officials said. The budgets include a 5% increase in personnel costs, 21% increase in health care benefit costs, as well as an increase in pension-related expenses.

The utility budget was previously approved by the Utility Service Board in September.

Next year will be the third year of a three-year rate increase process that the council approved in 2021. Water rates are expected to go up 7.3% next year, and the sewer rates are expected to up about 6%.

City officials said during the city council’s Nov. 8 meeting that the city’s water rates will still be less than half the state average and the sewer rates will be about $1.40 below the state average even after next year’s rate increases.

Officials said during the Nov. 8 meeting that they expect about $25.6 million in revenues for the utilities in 2024.

Officials with Columbus City Utilities said that the utility has broken ground on $21 million in water system improvements this year based on the budget approved last year and the water rates approved in 2021.

Some of those improvements include a water tower, a water main replacement and adding four new drinking water wells, officials said. The utility also has started $14 million of sewer projects, mostly related to lift stations.

Next year, Columbus City Utilities plans to conduct a rate study to determine if or when the utility will need additional rate increases.

City utilities director Roger Kelso said it would be difficult to conduct the types of projects in the utility’s master plan “without some additional rate increases.”

“We’re quite sensitive to rates and the effect on the local economy and that sort of thing,” Kelso said. “But for me to say, ‘No, we won’t need additional (rate increases),’ that wouldn’t be fair.”