Mayor Daryl Revoldt said yesterday the city's water system needs the increase to keep up with operating costs, infrastructure improvements and upgrades to the city's water-treatment plant.
Councilman Douglas Foltz opposes across-the-board rate hikes and favors putting more of the burden on customers outside the city.
Foltz said he will try to convince council members to leave the current rate in place for city residents, raise outside rates by about 20 percent and use interest income from the city's general fund carry-over.
``I can't in good conscience raise water rates when I know we can fund the rate increase through our carry-over,'' Foltz said yesterday.
The council discussed the issue last night at its regular meeting. Once a figure is set, members of the public will have three opportunities to discuss the hike.
The proposed increase could take effect on March water bills.
``Nobody likes to see their water rates increased,'' said Councilman Chris Thomas, who heads the city's water, sewer and rubbish committee. ``But there is a need.''
Thomas said the highest rate increase being considered is 35 cents per 1,000 gallons per year for each of the next three years.
City water customers pay $1.60 per 1,000 gallons and must purchase a minimum of 3,000 gallons. Outside residents pay $4 per 1,000 gallons.
The inside rates could be raised to $1.95 per 1,000 gallons for 2000 with additional 25- to 30-cent increases over the following two years. Outside customer would pay $4.88 per 1,000 gallons by 2002.
Any increase would be the system's first in about 17 years.
``We probably don't have a lot of choice,'' Revoldt said. ``It's been a nice run, but adjustments must be made or the system will run in a deficit.''
The water-system budget for 1999 was $2.5 million and was expected to increase by about $150,000 this year. In turn, the system collects about $2.5 million in revenue to operate the facility, Revoldt said.
Before making any price hikes, city officials will compare local water rates to the rates of neighboring community systems such as Canton, Wooster and Consumers Ohio Water before deciding how much to increase the rate for North Canton's 8,400 customers. Thomas said the city's water is the least costly around.
``There must be a mechanism to pay for improvements, and when one looks at the income and costs of operating the system, the margin is shrinking,'' Revoldt said. ``Something must be done.''
Any rate increase would help pay for a $600,000 expansion at the city's water plant. Another $450,000 would go toward a series of waterline-replacement projects for residential areas. Other money would go toward possible development of a water tank.
The money also would be used to repay bonds issued for $7 million in repairs, which a consultant said is needed at the city water treatment plant on Freedom Avenue.
``What we're attempting to do is get the water system ready for the next century,''