Ahoskie restructures water/sewer rates

Published 11:47 am Saturday, August 15, 2009

AHOSKIE – On the heels of public outcry, the Ahoskie Town Council has tweaked its water and sewer rates.

Meeting Thursday afternoon after recessing its regularly scheduled gathering on Tuesday, council members agreed to restructure the rates, which had increased effective July 1.

For residential accounts, there is a new flat rate of $30 ($10 for water; $20 for sewer) for usage of 2,999 gallons or less. The July 1st rate for that same amount was $35.15.

For water/sewer usage of 3,000 gallons, there is an additional, per 1,000-gallon fee of $3.65 for water and $5.35 for sewer. That fee is assessed for every 1,000 gallons (beginning with zero). For example, a residential customer using 3,000 gallons will be billed, under the revised rate, a $30 flat fee plus $3.65 times three ($10.95) in addition to $5.65 times three ($16.95) for sewer. That would bring that total bill for water/sewer to $57.90 (a savings from $62.15 under the July 1st rates).

Council also did away with the tier system, meaning the added rates ($3.65 and $5.65) do not change. For customers using 4,000 gallons, their bills will be the $30 flat fee plus $3.65 times four and $5.65 times four. Ditto for 5,000 gallons and onward.

“The revised rates still stress water conservation,” Town Manager Tony Hammond said. “And our Mayor (Linda Blackburn) passed along some great advice on Tuesday…all water customers need to ensure their plumbing is working properly. Even a small leak in a pipe or a dripping faucet can dramatically increase a water bill. We implore our residents to check their plumbing or have it professionally inspected. It can save you money.”

On the commercial side, council removed the 4 percent multiplier. It left the tiered (per 1,000 gallons) system, but capped it at 20,000 gallons.

Under the revised rates, commercial customers will pay a $30 flat fee plus $3.65 and $5.65 per 1,000 gallons for up to 5,000 gallons. That per 1,000-gallon fee increases by $1 (for both water and sewer) between 5,000 and 10,000 gallons and another $1 from 10,000 to 20,000 gallons. After 20,000, the per 1,000-gallon rate is fixed at $5.65 (water) and $7.35 (sewer).

In addition, council opted to slightly adjust the monthly garbage collection rates. The residential rate is now $17 (down from $20) and $25 for a commercial account (a decrease from $30).

None of the revised rates are retroactive to July 1. They will be used to figure the August bills, which will be mailed the last week of the month. There was no change to the monthly surcharge ($5.15 residential; $9.20 commercial) added to each bill.

When asked if these new rates will be enough to cover the town’s costs to operate its water/sewer system, Hammond said it would be a “wait-and-see thing.”

“It cost us $3.5 million annually to operate our system,” he noted. “The only money we can use to pay for the upkeep and upgrades to that system is water/sewer revenue and any fees associated with water/sewer.”

If Ahoskie’s new $17 million wastewater treatment plant was not mandated by the state, there would be no need to raise the rates.

“We don’t have an option here…the state has told us we have to build a new treatment plant and that’s what we’re doing,” Hammond said, adding that the 18-month project is underway. “Once it opens, we have to add state-certified personnel to assist in its operation. That adds to our costs. Plus we’ve got to make annual payments of $800,000 for 40 years to pay back the loan we received for construction.”

Those plans for a new treatment plant were put in place several years ago. To prepare for that, Hammond said Ahoskie’s water/sewer rates have gradually increased over the past four years.

“We had to get our rates to the point where we become eligible for state and federal funding that helps pay for the new plant,” Hammond said. “We finally got those rates to where they needed to be and received a $3 million grant.”

Hammond closed by saying the revised rates will be reviewed in six months to ensure Ahoskie is meeting its financial obligation to operate its current water/sewer system as well as beginning to bank funds to help offset the annual $800,000 loan payments.

The revision in the rates comes on the heels of a 95-minute public input session during Tuesday’s council meeting. There, residents and business owners complained of what they viewed as excessive rates, some saying their July bills were double that of June’s billing cycle.