M’boro Council discusses water rates

Published 7:53 pm Friday, December 25, 2020

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MURFREESBORO – After the Murfreesboro Town Council voted in September to raise the town’s water and sewer rates, they received several letters of complaint from residents. But despite continued discussions about the issue, no changes will be made in the foreseeable future.

Many residents expressed concerns about the steep increase compared to their previous bills. The new base rate for in-town water is $23 while the in-town sewer base rate is $40. Rates for out-of-town usage increased as well.

In addition to changing the base rates, there was also a tiered increase in the per gallon usage rate for water and sewer. Residents, for example, now have to pay $4 per 1,000 gallons of water up to 5,000 gallons. Those numbers continue to increase as the usage increases, with those using the most water getting the highest rates.

The town deemed it necessary to change the rates due to requirements for a grant application from the NC Department of Environmental Quality to make necessary infrastructure improvements. If awarded, the $537,000 grant 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.

Some members of the council shared their thoughts on the rate change during their comments at the end of their meeting in November.

“We, as a town, probably needed to have better communication skills,” acknowledged Mayor Hal Thomas. “I think when we set up the new rate, we did the least amount we could possibly do to get a favorable grant. We’re going to have to stay with what we’ve got for a little while.”

“I’m worried about the water rates,” said Council member Jay Revelle. “But somehow we’ve got to continue to upgrade our sewer and water system.”

Revelle noted that the grant application required them to include a depreciation expense which factored into how the new rates were calculated. He also noted that delaying the infrastructure repair work would just be “kicking the can down the road and making bigger problems later on.”

Council member Berna Stephens said she understood the hurt of the citizens, but she also acknowledged the need for the increase.

“It bothered me when I got my bill. I’m a retired citizen just like so many others in Murfreesboro,” Stephens said. “But unless we shut Murfreesboro down, we’re going to have to do something to keep it going, to keep the water system operating, to keep the sewer system operating.”

Council member David Brown suggested they continue the discussion at the council’s December meeting.

“I don’t know what the answer is,” Brown admitted at that meeting, held on Dec. 9, but he also made a few suggestions.

Brown noted that they could not make any rate changes while the grant application was still under review, but he suggested they could make an adjustment afterwards to a more gradual increase over two to three years instead of all at once.

“It’s not the townspeople’s fault the previous council, or whoever it was, did not raise those rates each year,” he emphasized.

During the council discussion, they estimated it had been over a decade since the water and sewer rates had been increased.

Stephens pointed out they needed to find some way to pay for essential infrastructure repairs throughout the town, including lift station repairs and replacements, wellhead maintenance, and more.

“We need to increase every year from here out,” said Murfreesboro Public Works Director Becky Turner, who also noted regular yearly increases would be a lot smaller than this particular one.

“If you want, the state can come in and take the water system over, and they’ll be glad to do that if it’s not properly maintained,” she continued, but added that the council would no longer have a say in operating decisions if that happened.

In the end, the council unanimously agreed to table the topic until after they hear back about the grant.