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Council approves bill to create independent water-rate setting board

So, there may soon be an independent board that will fix and regulate water rates and sewer services.

City Council approved today legislation sponsored by Council president Darrell Clarke that would create the independent board. Under Clarke's proposal voters will be asked in November to approve an amendment to the Home Rule Charter to establish the rate-making body.

The bill passed 16-1, with Republican Councilman Denny O'Brien voting against it. It's unclear whether Mayor Nutter will sign the bill into law as the Administration expressed concern about the measure during a recent hearing.

In February the Water Department announced plans to seek a 28.5 percent rate increase, that if approved would begin in October and spread over the course of three years. The average customer would see an $196 increase a year over today's rate. The Water Department has said the increase is necessary to deal with a projected $316 million budget shortfall over the next four fiscal years.

Currently, a rate request must go through a public-hearing process and the Council president, the Mayor and the City Controller would select a hearing officer and a public advocate. The final decision to approve a rate is made by the Water Commissioner.

"I saw no level of transparency that I was comfortable with," Clarke said. He has said that Philly is the only large city that does not allow elected officials or boards selected by elected officials approve the rates.