PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Every time you turn on that shower or flush that toilet bowl, the dollars start adding up.

By a 5-to-1 vote, the Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority raised its water rates by five percent. It’s the third year in a row for a rate hike.

Councilman Patrick Dowd voted against the five percent increase, preferring a nine percent hike to help reduce the authority’s very high debt load.

“Too much of revenue is being dedicated to the debt, and we have got to find a way to pay down that debt. We have got to find a way to get out of this situation,” Dowd told his fellow Board members.

All agreed that more must be done to clean clogged sewer drains that may have contributed to recent flood disasters, but a majority worried about higher rates on city residents – especially seniors who have had their social security payments frozen.

“Senior citizens got a zero increase in 2010, in 2011 got zero, in 2012 they’re getting 3.6 percent,” noted Board member Bob Jablonowski. “I have a lot of empathy for those people. I am very reluctant to raise rates, but I thought we had to do it.”

The principal reason, board members said, was the flooding in the city.

Every time it rains, some part of the city seems to get flooded, and some storms have turned deadly as the one along Washington Boulevard did.

Now the Authority is raising rates, approving a 2012 budget that will double the number of catch basins it hopes to clean.

“We’ve been to community meetings out in the neighborhoods, and residents pleading with us to address some of these flooding concerns. This budget gives us the chance to invest in that infrastructure,” PSWA chair Dan Deasy told KDKA money editor Jon Delano.

But it comes at a cost. The average customer will see their bill jump from $51.49 to $54.06, a five percent hike.

“We know that we have things that need to be repaired and fixed, and I think we’re being fair by only doing a five percent,” says Board member Margaret Lanier.

The board meeting was marked by some rancorous debate between city budget director Scott Kunka and Dowd, who favored a nine percent tax hike.

Kunka insists that nothing is personal.

In the end, board members supported a five percent hike, remembering, as Jablonowski said, “Those four people who died on Washington Boulevard – that was paramount for my voting for this.”

The PWSA is not alone raising water rates.

Pennsylvania American Water rates will go up 6.3 percent, and other water authorities are considering increases later in 2012.

In Allegheny County, besides water rate hikes, ALCOSAN is boosting rates 7.0 percent for everyone.

Pittsburgh Water & Sewer Authority
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