published Sunday, August 12th, 2012

Rossville may repeal 'hated' fee on water bills

Rossville is poised to repeal what Mayor Teddy Harris describes as a "hated" fee and replace the revenue it generated by raising property taxes.

At its meeting Monday night, the City Council will have a first reading of its roughly $2 million annual operating budget. Council members will consider whether to do away with the Rossville administration fee, a $6.50-per-month charge that comes with residents' water and sewer bills.

It has been in place since 2004, Harris said.

The fee, which helps fund city services, doesn't have anything to do with water or sewer service; it just comes on the same bill.

"It's just a hated fee," the mayor said. "When I was campaigning, I heard about it everywhere I went. I made a promise I'd do what I could to get rid of it."

To replace the roughly $130,000 generated annually by the fee, the council is poised to raise the property tax millage rate by 2 mils, Harris said.

"We're just switching one tax for another tax," he said.

If the switch is approved, people who live in homes worth less than $53,000 will pay less to the city, while those in homes worth more will see their city taxes increase, he said.

A 2-mil hike means an extra $68.20 per year on a home appraised at $100,000.

In addition to its unpopularity, Harris gave another reason for doing away with the fee.

Tennessee American Water Co. no longer will do third-party billing for Chattanooga-area cities, so Rossville is planning to pay a private contractor to do its sewage billing.

Some Rossville residents are on septic systems, and Harris doesn't want the city to send them bills with a zero charge for sewage -- along with a $6.50-per-month administrative fee.

"They're sending a bill for zero [dollars] and there's a $6.50 fee on there," Harris said. "I was really concerned it was going to be an administrative nightmare."

Not every Rossville bill payer has a strong opinion about the administration fee.

Carl Rupinski, co-owner of Reliks, an antique and retro furniture and collectibles store at 5016 Rossville Blvd., located just inside the Tennessee state line, said he's never noticed the fee while paying city bills for more than a year in the building he rents.

"Everybody's got those kind of fees," Rupinski said, mentioning phone bills as an example.

"I don't have the hours to question them," he said. "That's what public advocates are for."

about Tim Omarzu...

Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.

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