Saint John council is expected to vote Monday night on the proposed 2013 operating budget for Saint John Water, which would see many residents paying $72 more a year.

The utility has proposed a budget of $38.7 million, which will be used to maintain the current system and help to pay for major upgrades.

If approved, most customers will see their bill jump by $72 a year.

"Seventy-two dollars doesn't seem to be a lot," said Coun. David Merrithew, "but if you work it forward and you budget to 2016, it's 30 per cent at the end of the day. That's a significant amount."

Lora Johnson, who has lived in the city for 35 years, said she thinks she can manage if water rates are hiked.

"But it's going to make a difference because everything is going up. Our taxes are always increasing, the waters rates and heat," she said.

"We're a family of just two of us, retired senior citizens [on a] fixed income, and I think it would be cheaper for us to have metres rather than the rates we're paying now."

The water-budget vote will be the first major financial decision by a council that was elected to change how money is spent.

The city is currently finishing up a $100-million harbour cleanup and starting work on a new, $172-million drinking water system.

Highest in province

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If council approves Saint John Water's budget, most customers will be paying $72 more a year. (Matthew Bingley/CBC)

The Saint John Water budget is funded entirely by ratepayers.

Council approved a $36 increase in water rates for 2012 in December 2011.

At the time, some councillors expressed concerns the $972 flat rate for water and sewage was the highest in the province and possibly the highest in Canada.

Mayor Mel Norton, who was a councillor at the time, said he had "difficulty" seeing water rates continue to increase.

He said he was concerned the city’s flat rate was much higher than other New Brunswick communities, including some nearby towns.

Saint John hiked its rates by $72 in 2011.