Gates County proposes increase in water fees

Published 5:13 pm Friday, January 13, 2023

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GATESVILLE – As Gates County officials await notification of possible state funding to help make repairs and upgrades to their aging public water system, they are faced with tough choices of how to sustain that system in the years to come.

It appears the only logical choice is to raise the fees currently paid by customers of the water system.

The Gates County Board of Commissioners discussed that issue at a special called meeting here last week where they agreed to a proposal to raise the monthly water rates as well as certain tap-on and meter fees. However, a final vote to approve all proposed changes cannot take place until the public has the opportunity to voice their concerns.

At the outset of the Jan. 4 special meeting, County Manager Tim Wilson noted that the board, at a previous meeting, requested an examination of the existing fees, primarily the residential water billing rate.

Wilson noted that Brad Arnold, the county’s Public Utilities Director, has put together a list of the fees currently charged by the county for public water and the proposed increases in those fees.

“By in large what you will see is all the increases in existing fees relate to supplies and materials that are used by the Public Utility Department,” Wilson said. “The fees are at a rate right now where we are not recouping the cost of the materials. The recommended changes would bring those up to where the county would at least be recouping its material costs. In terms of labor, I’m not concerned about charging for that.”

Wilson said after reviewing the residential water rates, they were needed to be raised, but stressed to delay the implementation of that increase until a time when the new water meters are installed countywide

“That would help to determine how much revenue the system is actually generating,” he said.

Wilson added that the board chair had requested that a fee be placed in the chart for the board’s consideration that would raise the minimum water rate from $24 to $29 and the rate for each additional 1,000 gallons of usage after that from $3 to $5.

Other proposed changes to the fee schedule include the following:

Tap-on-Fee size ¾” from $1,000 to $1,500;

Tap-On Fee size 1″ from $1,250 to $2,000;

Tap-On Fee size 2″ from $2,250 to $3,000;

Meter Re-Read Fee from no cost to $25;

Meter Test Fee from $15 to $40;

Replace angle valve from $60 to $75;

Replace meter box with lid from $50 to $75; and

Replace meter box lid from $15 to $25.

Wilson noted there are two new fees proposed for the Public Utility Department: an application fee ($25 for residential homeowners/renters; $50 for a new commercial account; and $100 for a new industrial account) plus a security deposit for all new accounts ($50 for residential homeowner; $100 for residential renter; and $100 for new commercial or industrial customers).

It is also proposed to rescind the current Impact Fee Water of $1,000 as well as the current Impact Fee Sewer of $1,000.

Wilson advised the board if they wished to consider raising the rates, a public hearing is required prior to a vote being taken.

“We are going to purchase new, remote-read water meters and they should help with accuracy [of the amount of water used], but in the meantime we need to start collecting revenue now so we can sustain what we have fixed and what we need to fix [with the water system],” said Commission Chair Sr. Althea Riddick. “We are steadily spending money. We are losing money year after year after year. We’ve got to start putting money back into our Enterprise [water and sewer] Fund.”

Arnold said just by increasing the base water rate by $5 would generate $76,500 per month (compared to $54,000 monthly) or $918,000 per year (compared to $648,000 annually).

“We have to have a water system that’s sustainable,” stressed Commissioner Linda Hofler. “Right now we have the cheapest rate around.”

“You have to look at the Enterprise Fund like a business, it has to sustain itself,” said Commission Vice Chair Jonathan Craddock.

“We don’t want people paying for water they don’t use, but we do want them to pay for the water they do use,” Riddick added. “With our [current] meters being so old they’re not reading accurately. The new meters will be more accurate.”

“The presentation from our engineer is clear as to why we need to do this,” stated Commissioner Emily Truman.

The board unanimously supported the new schedule of fees and to schedule a public hearing. That hearing will be on the agenda at the board’s next regularly scheduled meeting at 6 p.m. on Jan. 18.

Gates County has applied for state funding that will assist in needed improvements to water and wastewater infrastructure. It was noted at a commissioners’ meeting held in September of last year that $8.9 million is needed to fix water and wastewater issues in the county.

Green Engineering, based in Wilson, was hired last year to assist Gates County officials in applying for the state funds.

In April of last year, the North Carolina Local Government Commission designated Gates County as a “distressed unit” in the operation of its water and wastewater systems. At that time, Tim Wilson explained that designation was due to a “combination of financial, organizational, and operational factors.”

“The upside to the designation is that it makes the county eligible for potential grant dollars to correct problems and deficiencies with its systems that were not before available,” Wilson added.

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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