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Water/sewer rates rising

MURFREESBORO – Those utilizing Murfreesboro’s water and sewer service will soon see a rise in their monthly bill. The town council approved a rate increase at their regular meeting here on Sept. 23.

The town is currently applying for a grant/loan from the NC Department of Environmental Quality to make infrastructure improvements. The $537,000 grant/loan will be used to replace the lift station at Carver Park, near Riverview Elementary School. In order to qualify, the town was required to raise their rates, and to submit that information before Oct. 1.

Murfreesboro Public Works Director Becky Turner presented her recommendations to the council, noting that the current rates were “entirely too low” when compared to the costs it takes to operate and maintain the water and sewer systems. Based on her calculations, the town would need to raise its water rates to $6 per 1,000 gallons of use and sewer rates to $7 per 1,000 gallons of use.

“This is where it needs to be to break even,” she explained, but also noted that the rate system would increase with higher usage.

Turner’s recommendation, however, started with a lower rate per 1,000 gallons. Households which use 5,000 gallons or less per month would pay $4 per 1,000 gallons. For sewer, she also recommended starting with a lower rate per 1,000 gallons. These numbers would also satisfy the requirements for the grant/loan application.

“I attempted to lower it for the low-end users knowing that the high-end users, the corporations, are going to offset that. They use a lot,” she said. “The majority of our people use between 2,000 to 5,000 gallons.”

“I realize this is a jump,” Turner continued. “I don’t know when was the last time y’all did a rate increase.”

She acknowledged the change would be unpopular, but necessary. She also noted that a rate increase should be done yearly going forward.

“You know the age of your system. There are major issues with your infrastructure that have to be addressed. So don’t shoot the messenger,” she emphasized.

“Every meeting we’re spending more and more on repairs. We’ve got to get the money from somewhere,” stated Council member Berna Stephens. “My water rates will go up just like everyone else, and I won’t be happy either.”

Stephens was referring to several ongoing projects discussed at recent council meetings about repairing or replacing malfunctioning lift stations and other equipment throughout town.

Council member Sarah Wallace agreed, noting the importance of doing what needs to be done to make repairs to the system even if people will be upset by the change. She also argued in favor of raising the rate enough to cover everything with this current change instead of going back to raise it again sometime in the future.

“If we’re going to have everybody hate us to begin with… you gotta do it,” Wallace said.

Council member David Brown suggested that the town would have to pay one way or another, whether that’s by raising the rates or paying for fixes to the infrastructure themselves. He noted there are a lot of water leaks around the town already.

The council spent some time discussing changing Turner’s recommendation to a proposal that would start with the $6 per 1,000 gallons rate for water and the $7 per 1,000 gallons for sewer instead of her lower rates for low-users.

“The law says that it has to be an enterprise fund. If we’re going to comply with the law, it needs to be a minimum of $6 and $7,” said Brown.

Unlike other government funds which operate from taxpayer money, an enterprise fund is operated through user fees to provide a good or service.

Mayor Hal Thomas pointed out that Turner’s recommendation meant that high-use customers would make up the difference, so they could charge under the $6 or $7 minimum for the lowest water and sewer users and still meet the requirements for the grant/loan application.

But when it came time to vote, the council unanimously approved for the in-town and out-of-town water rates to begin for the lowest users at $6 per 1,000 gallons of use and the sewer rates for in-town and out-of-town use would start at $7 per 1,000 gallons. The rates would go into effect on Sept. 28.

After Wednesday’s meeting, however, the council had a change of heart when looking at just how high bills would jump with the new rates. They held an emergency meeting on Monday, Sept. 28 to vote on new rates more in line with Turner’s original recommendation. Murfreesboro water and sewer users will still see their monthly bills rise, but it won’t be a flood.

Council member Jay Revelle motioned to adopt the amended rates, and Wallace seconded. The vote was unanimously in favor.

This means that the rates for water will be as follows: $4 per 1,000 gallons of use up to 5,000 gallons; $4.50 per 1,000 from 5,001-10,000 gallons; $5.50 per 1,000 from 10,001-15,000 gallons; $7 per 1,000 from 15,001-20,000 gallons; $8 per 1,000 from 20,001-25,000 gallons; and $10 per 1,000 for anything over 25,000 gallons. These rates are the same for in-town and out-of-town water. The only difference is that the base rate (0 gallons of use) for in-town water will be $23 and the out-of-town water rate will be $38.

The new sewer rates will be as follows: $3.75 per 1,000 gallons of use up to 5,000 gallons; $4.50 per 1,000 from 5,001-10,000 gallons; $7 per 1,000 from 10,001-15,000 gallons; $9 per 1,000 from 15,001-20,000 gallons; $10 per 1,000 from 20,001-25,000 gallons; and $12 per 1,000 for anything over 25,000 gallons. These rates are the same for in-town and out-of-town sewer. The only difference is that the base rate (0 gallons of use) for in-town sewer will be $40 and out-of-town sewer will be $80.

These revised numbers will supersede the previous change and will still take effect on Sept. 28.