Business owners remain upset with water rates

Published 9:20 am Thursday, September 10, 2009

AHOSKIE – Despite a round of point-counterpoint, it appears the issue of water/sewer rates in Ahoskie is far from over.

On Tuesday, longtime Ahoskie businessman Hal Daniels asked the town to revisit the issue, despite the fact that the Town Council had earlier responded to a similar plea and adjusted the rates.

As he did a month ago, Daniels asked council members to create a special class of water/sewer commercial rates for businesses that are 100 percent water dependent. Daniels’ son, Henry, owns three laundromats and two car washes in town. Combined, those businesses are the second largest water customer in Ahoskie, ranking only behind Roanoke-Chowan Hospital.

Hal Daniels reminded council members that when the new water/sewer rates took effect in July, his son’s monthly bill increased from $5,270 compared to $2,782 in June (under the old rate).

He added that in addition to the new commercial class, the town should roll the water/sewer rates to pre-July and freeze them at that level.

“Even the revised rates that came after I spoke to you in August are still too high,” Daniels said.

He added that his son would not consider raising his rates to offset the increase from the town.

“This class of business is performing a much-needed service to the people of Ahoskie and the area,” he noted. “It serves a segment of the population who can least afford an increase.”

Daniels added that he has come to the conclusion that the town council and management of Ahoskie do not understand the dilemma they have placed on this class of businesses. He again reminded Ahoskie’s leadership of the cheaper water and sewer rates in nearby towns.

“This is leading developers to look elsewhere to build while more and more of our businesses here in town are closing,” Daniels said. “You need to wake-up and look around. The fate of the businesses here are in your hands.”

Daniels also questioned the transfer of water and sewer (Enterprise) funds to the town’s General Fund over the last two years. He asked if the need for those funds was so great, then why was $782,509 transferred between those funds for the current budget year as well as the $694,045 transferred during the 2008-09 fiscal year.

Along those same lines, Ahoskie businessman Stan Dixon also raised some questions in regards to the budget, especially pertaining to the water/sewer fund. Specifically, Dixon inquired of a drop (from $221,251 to zero) in the Enterprise Fund’s Appropriated Fund Balance; what needs to be purchased for $255,000 as defined in the Capital Outlay of the Enterprise Fund; and the annual transfers of significant amounts of money from the Enterprise Fund to the General Fund.

“It appears to me that we are robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Dixon said.

In a prepared paper presented to the council, Dixon accused the town of becoming too dependant on the Enterprise Fund.

“Can you address why the Enterprise Fund is supporting the General Fund and thereby reducing greatly the need to tax the general property owners of the city to get the income it needs to operate,” Dixon inquired.

Dixon said he believes that the burden to replenish the Enterprise Fund falls on the town’s businesses.

“What are you trying to do with these new (water/sewer) rates,” Dixon asked. “I’ll tell you what you’re doing, you’re targeting the businesses of this town to regrow the funds you took and transferred to the General Fund. If you want to grow this town, you do it with business and industry, but what business or industry wants to come here with these high water and sewer rates.”

Ahoskie Mayor Linda Blackburn thanked Daniels and Dixon for their comments. She added that council will take their concerns under consideration.