Hot Topic: Water & Utility Bill Increases

Neighbors noticed a sharp increase in their water/sewer bills this year. I had sticker shock, too – and all council members voted to increase fees. Why?

Aging infrastructure and increasing water main breaks

In 2018, Crystal did a water & sanitary sewer Rate Study which highlighted our 40-60 year old system in need of maintenance and repair. Because we did away with assessments (where residents got an upfront bill of thousands of dollars to pay for their section of utility/street replacement), we voted to replace that with fees to build fund reserves over a projected 9 year plan.

For example: this year, two streets in southern Crystal had a complete replacement of water/sewer line and road with curbs. This was paid for with existing funding from water/sewer utility fees. Southern Crystal has clay-based soil that degrades the system quicker than northern Crystal, which has more sandy soil. Increased water main breaks on the south side have occurred over the past years, and the city used existing funds to replace sections of Jersey and Kentucky Avenues this year. With fees funding these repairs, the city is able to do maintenance and replacement as needed, paid in full with no need for an assessment. In essence, you are paying fees over a long term instead of a costly upfront bill by assessment (often paid by a 10-year loan with interest like I did 23 years ago).

How do Crystal’s fees compare with neighboring cities?

While Crystal may look more expensive than some neighboring cities (for example, Golden Valley in this graphic) – we do not charge “franchise fees” (considered a hidden tax to some because they are included in your cable or electric bill, not your utility bill). Our funding is transparent, and fees charged all go into the pot for utility costs/maintenance. Golden Valley and other neighboring cities may use franchise fees to make utility fees look cheaper, but residents are paying more for services in a less transparent way.

How long will these increases happen?

Over the next 7 years, increases in water utility fees will occur until a targeted cash reserve is met. In 5 years, our reserves will be more in balance with expected maintenance/repair needs around Crystal.

How can I lower my water/sewer bill?

Residents are now charged by consumption instead of a flat fee as done in the past. There are three tiers of water use, the lowest use results in lower costs per unit. Minimizing water use (shorter showers, less lawn/garden watering, etc.) can have an impact on your bill. Leaks and plumbing problems are a big factor in high rates, like a toilet that doesn’t stop running after flushing. Many neighbors use rain barrels or other drainage options to water lawns and gardens. Hennepin County offers specially priced rain barrels for sale every spring.

Where can I get more info?

Utility bill FAQs

Utility Rates

Utility fee schedules (effective Jan. 2020 in PDF format)

Listen to the City of Crystal Podcast on utilities
(“Utilities: Partnerships, Planning and Funding” – 25 minutes)

Contact public works at 763.531.1139 or publicworks@crystalmn.gov