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Aulander studies rate hikes

AULANDER – Baby steps…that’s what Town of Aulander officials will take in order to adjust water and sewer rates.

At the second of two public forums held here Thursday night, approximately 20 town citizens filed into the Aulander Community Building to learn more about the potential rate increases. What they discovered is that the initial round of hikes is minuscule.

“We know there are many of our town citizens, especially our senior citizens, who are living on monthly fixed incomes,” said Aulander Mayor Larry Drew who presided over the 40-minute meeting. “We don’t want to put them in a position where they are unable to pay for water and sewer services. What good is it to offer a service when nobody will buy it?”

The proposal favored by the Aulander Town Council is one where the actual rate is not increased, but rather one where the “flat rate” number of gallons used is lowered.

Mayor Drew handed out a two-page proposal for the citizens to review. It showed the current monthly, in-town rates of $15 for water (0-3,300 gallons) with a 17.5 cent charge per each additional 100 gallons (over the 3,300-gallon mark) and $10.50 for sewer (0-3,300 gallons) with a 25-cent added fee for each additional 100 gallons (after 3,300 gallons).

Those rates will remain the same. The only difference is that the added charges (17.5 cents and 25 cents per 100 gallons) will be billed after 2,000 gallons of use rather than the current 3,300 gallons.

The garbage pick-up rate ($15 per month per residence) remains unchanged.

“We feel our citizens can absorb this small increase,” Drew remarked. “We are well aware of these tough economic times and I feel our council members kept the best interest of our citizens in their hearts. What we didn’t want was for our citizens, especially those on fixed incomes, to have to choose between (paying for) water or heat or choose between water and medicine.”

As far as the bottom line was concerned, Drew said a household using, on average, 4,000 gallons of water per month would see their bill increase from $43.48 (water, sewer, garbage pick-up) to $48.50.

“That’s five dollars and a couple of pennies a month,” he noted.

Meanwhile, those using Aulander water/sewer and reside outside the town’s corporate limits will also see their monthly rates increase. Currently, the out-of-town rates are $22 for water (0-3,300 gallons plus a 23.5-cent fee for each 100 gallons thereafter) and $14.10 for sewer (0-3,300 gallons with a 38-cent added fee for each 100 gallons over 3,300 gallons). Duplicating the in-town hike, those fees will remain fixed, but the usage threshold will be lowered from 3,300 gallons to 2,000 gallons.

Based on an average usage of 4,000 gallons per month, Drew pointed out that out-of-town residents using the town’s services could expect their monthly bill to increase from $55.41 to $63.40.

The Mayor explained why these increases were necessary.

“We were told by the state (NC Rural Water Association) that we were giving our water and sewer away with our current rate schedule,” Drew said. “State law requires every water/sewer system to be self-supporting.”

Drew added that in order for the town to be eligible to apply for and receive state and federal grants for water/sewer improvements, “the town must show, in good faith, that they are making every effort to have their water and sewer services self-supporting.”

“We need these grants in order to make improvements to our water and sewer system,” Mayor Drew noted. “We knew we needed to raise our rates in order to become eligible for these much-needed grants and what we are proposing here tonight is the first step in doing just that.”

Drew also pointed out that the town has also absorbed the testing fees charged over the years by state and federal entities who want to ensure that the Aulander water/sewer system is operating up to standards.

“There’s a cost we must pay for those tests and we’ve tried to manage that cost over the years,” he said.

Based on a lack of negative reaction by those in attendance at Thursday’s public forum, it appears that Aulander residents are not angry with these hikes. However, more increases may loom in the future.

“We will have the revisit these rates more frequently,” Mayor Drew concluded. “Because we have had such low rates for years, we’re now playing catch-up. But we have decided to take baby steps in this process and have small, gradual increases.”

The Aulander Council will vote on this proposal after a public hearing held at their next meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 15 at the town municipal building. If approved, the new rates become effective Jan. 1, 2009.