New Water Fees and Rates Hit Multi-Family Tenants Harder in Marion

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

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By Dave Franzman

MARION, Iowa — All Marion residents will see an increase in both city water and sanitary sewer rates this spring. But those who live in multifamily units like apartments or even mobile home parks will end up paying more.

That’s because the city is changing the way service fees are calculated.

Marion operates its own water system, but pays Cedar Rapids to treat wastewater. Utility officials say the bill for that service has gone up 250% since 2007. Right now, the city charges $7.00 per month, per water meter to provide service to each customer. The new fee structure will boost that to $8.00. But the real change for multifamily residents is the city will now charge that fee per unit and not per meter.

Every single family home in Marion has a water meter. But apartment buildings, some with dozens of units, also have just one meter and pay the service fee based on that.

Ryan Miller, public services director for Marion, said the change is a case of fairness. As the city looked at the need to raise rates, it realized individual apartment tenants were probably paying 30 to 40 percent less for water and sewer services compared to single family homes. Miller said the city expected to hear from apartment owners, and tenants, when it decided to change the way it calculated the fee.

“It is a significant increase for the multifamily dwelling owners. We’re trying to level out the increases across the board not only for single family residents, but also the multifamily.” Miller said.

Mike Dricken, an apartment building owner who has two four-plex units in Marion, said when he got the letter from the city about the increases, he wasn’t happy. But he was also worried about some of his tenants who live on fixed incomes or get rental assistance.

Dricken pays just the single $7.00 service fee now for water and sewer service to each of his buildings. The service fee hike probably means an extra $25.00 a month in fees plus the higher rates for water and sewer. Like most landlords, Dricken pays for the water and sewer and gets it back in the rent. He said he’s probably going to have to raise rents to adjust for the higher rates and fees.

“Eight dollars on a $100-thousand dollar income home is nothing. But when you’re on a fixed income or maybe making $20,000 a year, that’s $300 dollars a year more and that’s a serious increase,” Dricken said.

Miller said if the city hadn’t change the way it calculates the service fee from per meter to per unit, then the rates might have needed to go up 20 to 30 percent.

The city council in Marion has approved two readings of the new sewer and water rates. A third, and final vote, is set for the council meeting on March 7th. If passed, the new service fee would take effect April 1st. The new sewer and water rates would show up on bills after July 1st.

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