ST. LOUIS – St. Louis water officials are proposing a water bill rate increase in the city. FOX 2’s partners at the St. Louis Post Dispatch reported that the increase would result in the largest hikes in city water bills in nearly three decades.

When hair salon owner Lori Fowler of Cielo heard of proposed water bill increases, she knew what that could mean.

“We’ll have to raise prices for clients, we will have to raise prices on the people who rent space here,” Fowler said. “I have a tenant upstairs in an apartment; her rent will have to go up because we pay for her water.”

The proposal came at a budget hearing Monday by Public Utilities Director Curk Skouby. The proposal would mean two 20% increases in the next fiscal year. One in July, and the other in January 2024.

“All across the board, it will affect us as a small business,” Fowler said.

Skouby said the increases are necessary to help the water division deal with rising costs and aging infrastructure. Altogether, the increases would mean a $10 monthly jump in the average customer’s bill.

“I’m on a metered rate as opposed to the citizens of St. Louis who are on a flat rate,” said Joe Vollmer, Alderman of the 5th Ward and owner of Milo’s Bocce Garden.

Vollmer said the increase should have been done gradually over the years.

“We do have a very, very old system. Just in the neighborhood around here in the past three years, we’ve had five water main breaks,” he said.

Fowler said she understands that issues with old pipes need to be addressed, but the increase would be a lot for a small business.

“We’ve had our water shut off [due to main breaks], we’ve had no notice from the water company,” she said. “And had our water shut off where we had to cancel all of our clients for the day because it’s a hair salon, we have to have water.”

Skouby explained that the major water main break that flooded part of Highway 40 near Forest Park alone is going to cost about $1 million. He also said that the pumps at the city’s water treatment plants are 60 years old and failing.

Skouby revealed that his department has been using a lot of its financial reserves in recent years, and that cannot continue for much longer.

At the hearing, aldermen expressed concerns about why the needs of the water department haven’t been addressed in a more gradual fashion over the past years.