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Rome's water and sewer customers will see a 2.5-percent increase in their rates effective Jan. 1.

Commissioner Milton Slack, who chairs the water committee, said the increase — the first since 2016 — was recommended by a consultant looking at needs over the next 10 years. Stantec, which analyzes spending and revenue projections for the utility every two years, called for small annual rate hikes beginning in 2019.

The Rome City Commission sets the rate each year and do not always follow the recommendation. However, the vote last week was unanimous.

City Manager Sammy Rich noted that it's easier for ratepayers to absorb smaller increases than to be hit with a 10- to 15-percent boost all at once.

"The lion's share of our customers are at the 4,500-gallon-a-month level," Rich said. "Their increase is $1.46 a month."

The city's water and sewer operation is an enterprise fund. It's supported solely by customers instead of with property taxes drawn from the general fund.

Commissioner Wendy Davis said a thorough presentation to the board last month showed the need to build up reserves for planned infrastructure projects, changes in treatment standards and emergencies.

There's a set minimum operating cost for the water and sewer systems, no matter how many customers they have. The utilities also must pay interest on loans or bonds floated to fund major upgrades and expansions.

Water and Sewer Director Mike Hackett said there's ongoing maintenance on the aging systems, and a scheduled replacement of parts.

A major expense in the consultant's planning model is ultrafiltration, which will be needed to meet increasingly tighter limits on chemicals in drinking water.

New limits from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are expected next year on perfluorinated compounds, PFOA and PFOS, used to make items such as non-stick cooking pans and stain-resistant carpet. The toxic chemicals can build up in the environment and human body over time.

Hackett said it's time to start working on an upgrade the Etowah River intake pump station and transmission line. It's a cleaner water source than the Oostanaula, which is fed by the Conasauga flowing south from the Dalton area. The estimated cost is $10 million.

There also are plans for new treatment equipment at the sewer plant, which could cost another $20 million.