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Double-digit rate hike needed to fix Petersburg’s fragile water system

PETERSBURG, Va. -- Some people who live in Petersburg are not happy about the city's new water bill rate hike. Petersburg City Council voted to implement a 14.3 percent rate increase for all 12,000 city customers during Tuesday night's meeting.

Council members said the rate increase was the only way to collect money that would help properly prepare the city for a potential emergency and improve its failing system.

"This situation here, a lot of people are struggling already trying to make ends meet," upset Petersburg taxpayer Clarence Blizzard said.

He worked multiple jobs to make ends meet, but now lived off a fixed income.

"I just think it's ridiculous," Alice Rives added. "All the utility bills are already high, and now they're going to impose a 14 percent increase on the water bill, a lot of people can't afford that.

Interim Petersburg City Manager Tom Tyrrell called the increase is the first step in a five-year plan.

"Without it we don't have the resources we need to repair even a small emergency," he said. "A small water main break could be up to $300,000 repair."

Tyrrell said while he understood the increase might have a big impact on some customers, he said the city needed money to repair a water system that has been neglected for decades.

"The reality is that Petersburg has had incredibly cheap water for a very very long time. We're just catching up," he said. "The consequence of having such a cheap water for so long, is that we didn't put any investment in the system. That's why we have a fragile system right now."

Customers like Blizzard are frustrated, but hope at the new measure helps the people of Petersburg in the long term.

"I understand why, but they should've thought about that when it first started way back when it was so cheap," he said. "I mean, there's got to be a change if we're going to move forward there has to be a change."

Future rate increases are possible.  Tyrrell said the rate analysis done by the city showed it really needed a 74.3 percent rate increase to catch up.