By Mike Dunn

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — City Council took a step this past week toward changing the odd way in which the city sets water rates. Under the current system, the same official who proposes a rate hike makes the final decision.

Currently, the Water Commissioner has his staff propose a rate hike, and then after public hearings, the Commissioner renders a decision on the increase. At the hearing, Councilman Bill Greenlee was among the lawmakers openly perplexed.

“One individual makes a recommendation, and after the circle goes around and comes back to him or her, that person makes the final decision?” Greenlee said.

Deputy Managing Director Andrew Stober says it may be odd, but the method of setting rates, which is decades-old, keep politics out of the decision.

“That has been a process that, when looking at our rates for a measure, has worked well for the city,” Stober says.

Still, the committee okay-ed Council President Clarke’s plan for a voter referendum on changing the system so that an independent body makes the final decision on water rates.

The Water Department in February proposed a four-year rate hike to take effect in October. If approved by the Commissioner, the average residential water bill would rise from the current $57 per month to nearly $74 per month by 2016.

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