Water/sewer rates may rise

Published 4:49 pm Friday, October 22, 2021

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JACKSON – Northampton County’s Interim Public Works Director presented the initial proposal for a water and wastewater rate increase to the Board of Commissioners at their regular meeting here on Oct. 18.

“The county has not had a rate increase in several years,” explained Becky Turner, adding that the rates need to go up in order for the county to be eligible to receive funding.

Board Chair Charles Tyner, who is currently as serving as Interim County Manager, previously mentioned the need for a small rate increase at several board meetings earlier this year. He said then they would follow USDA guidance to meet required criteria for funding.

“We all know the rates have got to go up,” Tyner said at Monday’s meeting. “There’s no question about it. We don’t want to, but we don’t have a choice.”

According to information presented to the board, Northampton County currently has a little over 14,000 water connections and just over 3,300 sewer connections. Turner reported that the current low rates means that those systems are operating “in the red” and these changes would help rectify that.

But in coming up with the new rates, Turner said they tried to adjust the proposal so that people who use less water than average each month, such as elderly residents or single parents, would not see as big an increase as those using much higher amounts per month.

For example, she said, a household using up to 2,000 gallons a month pays $29.50 at the county’s current rate. That amount would increase to $33 under the proposed new rate, a difference of $3.50.

The difference between current and proposed rates, however, increases with the amount of water used. A household using up to 5,000 gallons per month pays $44.50 under the current rate. The new rate would see that bill jump $20 at $64.50.

Under the new proposal, the base rate for residential water would drop down to $16, a change from the current $19.50.

Commercial water rates are adjusted similarly in the proposal.

For wastewater rates, the residential base rate would increase an additional $5. But, like the water rate proposal, lower-use accounts would not see as big an increase in their monthly bills as high-use accounts.

A household with up to 2,000 gallons per month currently pays $26. Under the new rates, that bill would rise to $36 per month.

Turner reported that wastewater rates are higher than water rates because none of the wastewater is handled and treated within the county, causing an additional expense.

She concluded her presentation by noting that the figures in the proposal were calculated to adequately cover indebtedness, capital expenditures, and operation/maintenance costs.

Bob Murphy, who is currently working as a consultant with Northampton while the county manager position is vacant, pointed out that they still remain comparatively competitive with rates statewide, even with this increase.

Commissioner Joyce Buffaloe asked when the increase would take effect.

Turner answered that the decision rests in the hands of the commissioners, but the best time to increase rates in usually April or October. Tyner chimed in to add that they may not wait until April to implement the change.

Tyner also announced the board would hold a public hearing soon to receive input from citizens about the proposal. But he did not set a definitive date yet.

The county is currently working on their Phase 6 water expansion project which will expand water service to over 200 households in underserved areas of the county, mainly in the eastern end near Pendleton and Murfreesboro. In July, they were officially approved for a USDA Rural Development loan of $4.9 million for the project. The interest rate for the 40-year loan is 1.5 percent.

Tyner explained at a previous meeting in June that money from the county’s water/sewer enterprise fund will be used to make those loan payments.