Gates County water fee increase inches closer

Published 5:03 pm Friday, January 27, 2023

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GATESVILLE – A plan to approve a rate increase for customers of the Gates County Public Water system has moved one step closer to adoption.

At their regularly scheduled meeting here Jan. 18, the Gates County Board of Commissioners agreed to place the proposed rate changes and the new fees into an ordinance with an effective date of April 1. That ordinance needs to be written and will be presented for formal adoption at the board’s next regularly scheduled meeting in February.

The action taken at last week’s meeting came after a scheduled public hearing as well as discussion among the board members.

One speaker noted that older citizens in the county, who have limited incomes, would be impacted the most by the proposed increase. He also asked if the increase would cause new businesses to have second thoughts about opening in the county.

Another noted there has been no increase in approximately 10 years and that was “good because the price of everything eventually goes up.”

A citizen asked if the rates took into account the “water leakage” and if that could be fixed it should lower the expenses of treating the wasted water.

Another resident praised the efforts of the water department and said he had no doubt that material prices have increased, leaving county officials with no other way to cover those rising costs than to raise the water rates.

A county citizen asked if it was possible to go back to a monthly billing system rather than bi-monthly.

Gates County Public Utilities Director Brad Arnold said the increased rates (an additional $5 in the base usage fee as well as increasing the per 1,000 gallon fee from $3 to $5) were needed just to cover the rising cost of operating the water system.

“As most of ya’ll know, [the cost of] supplies and materials have gone through the roof,” Arnold said. “They are steadily increasing. Overall, we were a little low on our water rates. It’s time to raise them up a little bit.”

“These increases are to take care of an aging system,” stated County Manager Tim Wilson. “There is a lot of repair work that needs to be done. There are other fee increases that are inflationary. What we’re paying for water valves, water meter covers and so forth, we need to just recoup the actual cost of those materials.”

Wilson also noted that the proposed new water rates also include a security deposit fee for new accounts. That’s a first for Gates County.

“We have some accounts that close out with a balance due and that security deposit will help negate that problem,” he said.

Wilson clarified that the advertisement for the public hearing noted that the proposed increase in the bi-monthly base rate is from $24 to $29.

The commissioners offered their thoughts on the proposed rate hikes at the close of the public hearing.

“We have applied for a [state] grant to help us meet our infrastructure needs,” noted Commission Chair Dr. Althea Riddick. “We don’t know now what we’ll receive. We’ll know in about 35 to 40 days.

“Our [current] water rate is too low and our costs of materials and labor are steadily increasing,” she added. “We have to build up our Enterprise Fund (fueled by the fees paid by water and sewer customers). We have to show [the state] that we are serious about maintaining our water system. There is a plan to replace all water meters. They are old and not reading accurately.

“This summer there will be a firm coming in to do a comprehensive study of our water rates. But in the meantime we’re trying to demonstrate that Gates County is serious about our infrastructure by maintaining what we’re going to fix. The grant money will hopefully help us fix it, but we have to maintain it for the future,” Riddick concluded.

“I agree with the increase and the purpose of it,” stated Commissioner Emily Truman.

“Sustainability is very important,” stressed Commissioner Linda Hofler. “The state isn’t going to give us money if we can’t make ends meet. We are collecting less money than it costs us to produce our water. We’ve got to get these fees to where the system operates on the rates charged.”

Commission Vice Chairman Jonathan Craddock said the Gates County water plant produced 329 million gallons of water in 2022. He noted that 156 million gallons were billed for revenue of $1,022,872.95. The rest (52 percent of what was pumped and treated) was lost due to an aging system that is in constant need of repairing leaks.

“We’ve got to do this; our water system has to sustain itself,” Craddock said in support of the rate hikes. “The system does not receive any other funding…just the user fees. We don’t have the money we need to make the repairs. I can’t see us sustaining the water department without raising the rates.”

“The issue is stewardship and sustainability, Commissioner Brian Rountree remarked. “Maintaining what we have comes at a cost. We must sustain our Enterprise Fund. If not it will bankrupt itself. We must take the necessary action to ensure that we have a water system in place for our citizens. Sometimes we don’t like to take medicine, but it’s necessary for a cure.”

Other than raising the bi-monthly basic usage fee from $24 to $29 (which includes the first 2,000 gallons of water) and the rate for each additional 1,000 gallons of usage after that from $3 to $5, other 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.

There are two new fees: 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).

The current Impact Fee Water of $1,000 as well as the current Impact Fee Sewer of $1,000 will be rescinded with the new ordinance.

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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