Carson City elected officials winced, but still approved, two 14 percent water-rate increases: One would start in February and the other in July.
"I'm sorry," said Supervisor Robin Williamson after she read the motion, which passed unanimously.
"This is not appetizing. This is not fun," said Mayor Marv Teixeira. "I wish there was an option."
Business owners have an out, said resident Gil Yanuck. "They pass it on to their customers."
Some residential customers, faced with their own increased water costs and costs passed on by businesses through higher rates for products and services, might do their shopping in "neighboring counties," he said.
City officials, however, say the substantial increase is needed to offset higher operating costs. The city's bond rating could be downgraded if the operation isn't adequately financed, which would only add to expenses because bond-interest rates would rise.
One year's worth of reserve for bond payments is a necessary budget component for the water department, for example, said Andrew Burnham, the city's public works director.
Water is an enterprise service provided by the city, which means it's operated like a business. Customer payments finance the service, said City Manager Linda Ritter.
Mary Anne Jennings, a longtime resident and retired state worker, is opposed to the increase and described it as "a discouraging thing."
"I wish there were other ways you could handle it," she told the supervisors.
Teixeira also asked whether the city's warm-weather watering program has been working. Restrictions that stop virtually all outdoor consumption on Mondays and limit use during the rest of the week during the summer and early fall kept the collection system in good condition, but didn't curb water use itself, Burnham said.
"We have to be mindful we're a monopoly," said Supervisor Shelly Aldean. "People have nowhere else to go for the service."
Supervisor Pete Livermore suggested the city consider reduced costs for water for senior citizens, many of who are on fixed incomes.
Ritter replied that the city could look at a program based on income to help residents who might struggle to pay the increased water bills.
Two other suggestions were made by the supervisors to help customers deal with the increases. Current landscape standards for nonresidential buildings should be reviewed and possibly modified to allow less expensive alternatives, where appropriate.
The other request was to consider seasonal water rates - higher rates in winter and lower in summer - as a way to keep water bills from rising so much during warm months, Burnham said.
The University of Nevada, Reno Cooperative Extension will be offering courses on how to create efficient landscaping so residents can find ways to use less water in their yards. Call 887-2252 for details.
Supervisors are expected to give their final approval to the increase Jan. 18.
The last water-rate increase was in 2005. There were no increases in 2006 because the city wanted to try to reduce expenses before passing on additional costs to customers, Ritter said.
• Contact reporter Terri Harber at email@example.com or 882-2111, ext. 215.
In other business ...
The Carson City Board of Supervisors:
• Named Marilyn Koschella and reappointed Mary Sanada to the Board of Equalization.
• Named Rich "Wrangler Rich" Wontorski to the Parks and Recreation Commission.