Residents of Columbus and many of its suburbs will pay more for water and sewer services in 2012 after Columbus City Council approved rate increases last week.

Residents of Columbus and many of its suburbs will pay more for water and sewer services in 2012 after Columbus City Council approved rate increases last week.

The rates will go up by 4.7 percent for city residents and 5.4 percent for those who live in suburbs that contract to use Columbus utilities. That’s an increase of about $44 per year for the typical customer in the city — about $976 a year — and $55 in the suburbs, which amounts to about $1,066 annually.

Changes to the water system — including federally mandated upgrades at the city’s water plants to filter out more contaminants — and a $120-million reservoir being dug in Delaware County to increase the supply of water are to blame for the higher rates, according to Tatyana Arsh, the city’s utilities director. The new reservoir will hold 9 billion gallons of water.

Sewer and water bills have nearly doubled since 2004, when Columbus headed off a federal lawsuit by agreeing to $2.5-billion in upgrades designed to stop sewage overflows into the region’s rivers over the next 40 years.

About $1 billion of that work has been done.

The proposed sewer increase for 2012 is the lowest in years. Arsh said the city is spending more on the water side to increase capacity and meet new federal regulations on water contamination.

The overall 2012 rate increases reflect several underlying changes: an 8-percent hike in water rates and a 3-percent boost in sewer rates. Columbus customers will pay 2 percent less for storm sewers. Suburban customers do not pay Columbus for storm sewers.

In 2011, rates rose 6.2 percent overall for Columbus customers and 6.7 percent for suburban customers.

Mayor Michael B. Coleman said he’s glad to see that rate increases are leveling off, but federal mandates make it difficult for Columbus to keep utility costs down.

“What would be helpful, frankly, is federal assistance,” Coleman said. “We used to get federal assistance on capital projects for water and sewer. That no longer exists.”

Help is available for Columbus residents who can’t afford their utility bills.

The city offers a 20-percent price break to those who are below the federal poverty line or who are eligible for food stamps or Medicaid.

In other action Nov. 21, city council also approved increased penalties against truckers who haul hazardous cargo through Columbus instead of going around it on the Outerbelt.

Officers once were able to issue only a $150 fine for disobeying the “hazardous cargo” signs posted around the city, but now they will be able to issue citations that carry $1,500 in fines, possible jail time and a mandatory court appearance.

The original law, written in 1985, gave enforcement power to the city’s Fire Division, which does not have enforcers on the city’s streets and highways.

The new law makes it clear that police can enforce the code.