Water woes

Published 5:12 pm Sunday, October 19, 2014

JACKSON – An increase in rates for customers of the Northampton County Rural Water System has prompted two county citizens to voice their concerns publically.

The new rates, approved in June by the Northampton Board of Commissioners and which took effect July 1, marked the first increase since 2010.

“I’m very disappointed in the amount this county is charging for water rates,” said Henrico resident Rodney West. “At the beginning of this year I was paying $20 for 2,000 gallons of water consumption; I now pay $24.50 for 1,000 gallons and $5 more per thousand (gallons) after that. If I use 3,000 gallons, my bill is $34.50. That’s a 38 percent increase in my water rate.”

West called the increase, “very unreasonable.”

“When you changed the water rates, we lost that first 2,000 gallons that was, at one time, included in the minimum bill,” he remarked, “Now we pay for every 1,000 gallons at $5 per thousand. That’s unreasonable as far as I’m concerned and I feel there are other citizens of this county who are just as upset over this as I am.”

West told the commissioners that a private well was still on his property.

“I’m giving that good consideration (reactivating the well),” he stressed. “I don’t reside in my (Northampton) home during four months of the year, meaning I’m paying for water I’m not using anyway (the base monthly bill).”

West also noted that in the newly approved way the water consumption is billed, if his meter goes one gallon over the 1,000-gallon increments (1001; 2001; 3001 etc.) he is billed at the next highest level.

“That means I’ve paying $5 more for 999 gallons I’m not using,” he said. “That’s not fair.”

West said he completely understood a need to slightly adjust the rates to help cover rising costs of operating a water system, but considers it unfair to take away the first 2,000 gallons that was once included in the billing method of previous years.

“That particularly affects fixed income families in this county; you’re really hurting them,” West said. “This new rate structure needs to be looked at again and re-worked by the water department.”

Another county citizen also addressed the new water rates.

“My normal bill was $25; it went to $34, but I didn’t complain at first because I knew that our bills were going up,” said Silverleen Alston. “But when I got my last bill, it was for $44.50. There was nothing different in my normal water usage (from the previous month), but this bill was much, much higher. I would like to see ya’ll check into these water rates.”

Robert Carter, chairman of the County Commissioners, agreed that the new water rates may indeed bear further study.

“I too have heard some complaints about this,” said Carter, referencing the higher water bills. “I think we need to sit down with our Public Works Director and County Manager to see if any type of adjustments can be made.”

Back in June, Northampton County Public Works Director Jason Morris explained that the rate increases, which impacted water and sewer customers, resulted from a study performed in November of 2013 by the North Carolina Rural Water Association.

“The recommendation that came out of this study resulted in a rate structure change to include a user fee that would cover the debt service cost, and that the rates needed to be set at a level to cover operation and maintenance of the water and sewer system,” Morris stated at the June meeting. “The increase in these rates can also help cover the cost of deprecation of the county’s water and sewer system.”

Prior to the rate increase, the majority of Northampton County water customers (5,045 connections) were billed a flat monthly fee of $20, which included 2,000 gallons of water. The newly approved plan calls for those customers to be billed a $19.50 monthly user fee plus a $5 charge for each 1,000 gallons of water. That means the average customer currently using 3,000 gallons of water per month will see their bill increase from $25 to $34.50.

For most, the $5 charge for each 1,000 gallons of water will apply. Those that consume more water per month (10,001 to 25,000 gallons) will pay the $19.50 plus $5.50 for each 1,000 gallons. That rate increases to $6 per 1,000 (for users of between 25,001 to 50,000 gallons); $6.50 per 1,000 (for 50,001 to 100,000 gallons), and $7 per 1,000 for monthly usage in excess of 100,000 gallons.

However, those who use less (zero to 999 gallons) will only be billed the $19.50 monthly user fee.

On the commercial side, those accounts will pay a $25.50 monthly flat fee plus an additional charge (per 1,000 gallons) of $6 (0-10,000 gallons), $7 (10,001-25,000 gallons), $7.50 (25,001-50,000), $8.50 (50,001-100,000 gallons) and $9.50 (in excess of 100,000 gallons).

The new rates are expected to add $783,736.80 annually to the water system’s budget, bringing the total revenue to $2.735 million. Morris said his department’s “break even” number (operating and maintenance costs) is $2.71 million annually.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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