Snowbirds who use no Minneapolis water in the winter may still have to pay for it.

A proposal by city public works staff for $5 in new monthly fees for water and sewer service is making its way through City Hall. There's a public hearing on the proposal before a City Council committee at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday.

Residents would pay the fees regardless of whether they used any water. The fee is designed to cover a small portion of the fixed costs of running the city's water and sewage utilities. Water and sewer users will also continue to get billed for their usage, although rates will drop somewhat.

As a result, the typical residential customer would pay about $1.80 monthly more than now. That's a good chunk of the $5.28 monthly increase in city utilities projected for 2012 under Mayor R.T. Rybak's budget.

Public works' justification for the proposal is that big swings in water use between drought and wet years -- weather is the biggest influence on city water use -- can be hard on the water fund's cash flow. For example, the difference between water used during a wet 2010 and a dry 2006 was $9 million in water revenue. So the fixed fee would cushion some of that volatility. According to city water and sewer specialists, the monthly fees for fixed costs don't come close to covering the fixed costs of running the water plant, sewage treatment and the city's water and sewer pipe network. But they say that if the fixed costs make up too high a share of the monthly bill, that might run counter to a state Department of Natural Resources mandate to set water charges to encourage conservation.

The proposal that will be discussed by the council committee is an ordinance authorizing the new fees. The decision on actually putting them in effect, which is supported by Rybak, will be originated by the council's budget committee in December.

Steve Brandt • 612-673-4438