Water/sewer rate change approved in Northampton
Published 6:25 pm Friday, February 11, 2022
JACKSON – Northampton County’s water and sewer system users will be seeing a difference on their bills in the near future.
The Northampton County Board of Commissioners approved a rate increase during their regular meeting here on Feb. 7. The decision came after a public hearing that same evening which provided an opportunity to hear feedback and questions from citizens.
It was the second such hearing the commissioners have held on the topic.
“It has come to my attention that the [Water and Sewer] Enterprise Fund may need to increase rates to continue to provide the citizens of Northampton County with the best quality water at the most equitable price,” explained Becky Turner, who serves as the county’s Interim Public Works Director.
She noted, as she has at previous presentations on the topic, that the costs of treating water and wastewater has continued to rise while the county’s rates have remained the same for several years. She also stated that, by her understanding, the Enterprise Fund had to rely on reserve funds at the end of the most recent fiscal year, which isn’t a good practice for a fund which is supposed to be self-sustaining.
During a previous public hearing held in January on the proposed rate increase, Turner explained that, for example, the cost of treatment chemical chlorine continues to rise drastically.
Additionally, Turner reported that Northampton County’s current rates put them well below the grant threshold for any future USDA consideration. That threshold says residential users should pay a minimum of $64.50 per 5,000 gallons of use.
Under the current rates, users pay $44.50 for that same amount of water.
“I understand how this rate increase could very well affect our customers,” she said, and concluded her comments to note that the recommendation was not made lightly.
Following Turner’s presentation, citizens had the opportunity to speak during the public hearing.
Gary Eliot, a resident of Jackson, asked why the Enterprise Fund had gone down.
Board Chair and Interim County Manager Charles Tyner said that was the result of several reasons, but mainly rising costs. He also noted that the USDA had told them they needed to raise the rates.
“We cannot stay at this rate,” Tyner said. “This is something I’m totally against too, but we have no other choice.”
Other citizens had questions about the proposed rates—there were no copies of the rates available to the public beforehand—as well as questions about if the county would consider seeking grant assistance to help citizens with fixed incomes.
Keith Flythe, a farmer from Conway, asked if these changes would affect the farm use rate for water as well, to which the answer was no. The rate changes are only for residential and commercial water and sewer use.
After the conclusion of the public hearing, Commissioner Geneva Faulkner asked if the commissioners could make changes to the proposal.
“Is there any way we can make an incremental change versus an all-at-once change,” she asked. “In layman’s terms, I want us to increase as little as we have to, to get us where we have to be.”
In the current rate structure, the amount users paid increased by $5 per each 1,000 gallons of use up to 10,000 gallons, after which the rate increased by $5.50 each tier.
In the new proposal, those amounts were changed to a higher increasing block for each tier. Faulkner suggested reducing that amount slightly while still being able to reach that $64.50 minimum requirement.
Turner said making the changes Faulkner suggested should still be able to cover rising costs.
Faulkner motioned to modify the proposal, and stated it would take effect on March 1, 2022 to continue until June 30, 2023. The commissioners would then consider whether another rate increase was warranted after that.
Commissioner Joyce Buffaloe seconded the motion. The vote was 4-1 in favor, with Commissioner Kelvin Edwards casting the dissenting vote.
The new rates for residential water are as follows:
Base rate: $23.50 (an increase from the previous $19.50)
1-1,000 gallons of use: $29.50
1,001-2,000 gallons of use: $35.50
2,001-3,000 gallons of use: $43.00
3,001-4,000 gallons of use: $53.75
4,001-5,000 gallons of use: $64.50
The tiers continue to increase by a rate of $10.75 per 1,000 gallons of use thereafter.
For commercial water rates, which include industrial and institutional use, the base rate is increasing from $25.50 to $29.50. The increasing tier structure is the same as the one for residential water.
The new rates for residential sewer are as follows:
Base rate: $18 (an increase from the previous $15)
1-1,000 gallons of use: $26.00
1,001-2,000 gallons of use: $34.00
2,001-3,000 gallons of use: $43.50
3,001-4,000 gallons of use: $53.00
4,001-5,000 gallons of use: $64.50
The tiers continue to increase by a rate of $11.50 per 1,000 gallons of use thereafter.
For commercial sewer rates, which include industrial and institutional use, the base rate is increasing from $20 to $26. The increasing tier structure is the same as the one for residential sewer.