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Benton Utilities will be hosting a public hearing at 6:30 p.m. today at Benton City Hall, 114 South East St., to discuss a proposed increase in water and wastewater utility rates.

The meeting will begin immediately after the Parks, Streets and Community Services committee meetings. At last month's Community Services/ Animal Control Committee meeting, committee members voted to recommend an ordinance involving an increase to utility rates for Benton Utilities customers by $16 on July 1. The recommendation was forwarded to the Benton City Council, which approved the first reading of the ordinance.

This public hearing will be residents' first opportunity to share their concerns and ask questions about the upcoming changes.

There are additional readings of the ordinance planned for the April and May meetings of the council.

“If passed at the May council meeting, the ordinance would go into effect in June with the new rates effective in July,” said City Attorney Baxter Drennon.

The rate increases are long overdue, according to city officials. As of right now, the funding required for water and wastewater services is being subsidized by funds generated by electricity services. The goal of raising the rates is to allow water and wastewater side of Benton Utilities to be self sustaining.

Drennon has said the city will need to raise the rates to meet the requirements of state law.

“My professional opinion is, the Arkansas legislature is telling you, you have got to have three utilities that are able ... to cover their debt, operating cost and to be able to replace whatever assets they have,” said Drennon at last month's meeting of the Community Services and Animal Control Committee.

The plan would be a three-phase approach with the first increase coming in July. Each phase would involve a $16 per month increases for Benton Utilities customers.

The city has also offered assistance to Benton Utilities in a one-time contribution of $3 million in American Rescue Plan act funds, if the ordinance is passed. Additionally, beginning in January of 2023, city departments would start budgeting and paying Benton Utilities for the consumption of utilities. The River Center is currently the only building that pays for its utilities.

This would bring in around $500,000 to $600,000 annually, according to General Manager of Benton Utilities David Vondran.

The meeting is open to the public and attendance is encouraged. It will also be live streamed from the city's official Facebook page.