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      City approves utility fee hike, 2 a.m. bar closing

      COLUMBIA (WACH) -- Funding for the Central Midlands Regional Transit Authority is running low.

      To help pump some cash into the system, Columbia City Council approved an increase to SCE&G TMs franchise fee.

      Customers currently pay a 3 percent franchise fee on their power bills, but that will soon change to 5 percent.

      The amount varies for each customer, but it's estimated the increase will generate an additional $3.6 million a year and will be given to CMRTA.

      Council members hope by passing the ordinance, it will give CMRTA enough gas to keep the buses rolling while other funding options are explored.

      Read more Freezing temps help break energy consumption record Tensions surface between city, CMRTA on transit funding Power bill hike stirs strong feelings from both sides

      Before taking a vote, council held a public hearing Tuesday at their regular scheduled meeting. The ordinance will impact the city TMs 75,000 utility customers.

      Think about the impact on our businesses -- pass their costs onto us, reduce the number of employees, move their businesses out of Columbia, says resident Bill Manley. What about the non-profits? -- reduce the services to those in greatest need, reduce the hours of operation and close their door to the people. There is another way.

      This is not about supporting the same old bus system, this is about fundamentally changing the way we look at public transportation, says Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin.

      The franchise fee hike passed by a vote of five-to-two. City Manager Steve Gant says the increase won't take place until January of 2012.

      What do you think about the increase? Are you comfortable paying the added amount to keep the buses on the road? Vote in our daily web poll below and leave a comment to weigh in.

      Council also unanimously approved a uniform 2 a.m. closing for bars and restaurants that serve alcohol.

      Businesses that want to continue to sell alcohol past 2 a.m. will have to meet new guidelines, which include: banning drinking contests, drinking outside, all employees must take an alcohol-service training class and the establishment must provide a security guard for every 100 people.

      The ordinance gives the city more control to enforce bars and restaurants by revoking their right to stay open past 2 a.m. if they don TMt comply.