County hikes sewer rates 5%

May 13, 1997


Staff Writer

The Washington County Commissioners voted Tuesday to raise residential sewer rates by 5 percent July 1, despite warnings from staff members that the increase should be higher.

The average Washington County customer, who uses 12,000 gallons of water, would pay $16.52 more per year, far less than the $37.60 recommended by staff.

"Barring something significant you are almost guaranteeing a higher increase next year," said Water and Sewer Director Gregory Murray.

Commissioner James R. Wade called the vote arbitrary, "foolish and almost political" because the commissioners hadn't identified how to make up the difference in revenue.


Commissioner John S. Shank told Wade that he should be more optimistic, and that a projected 1 percent growth in users might increase.

Wade said that the commissioners' optimism in the past had helped contribute to the financial problems in water and sewer. The Water and Sewer Department is $56 million in debt, and current rates aren't high enough to pay operating costs and debt service.

Commissioner R. Lee Downey made the motion, which was seconded by Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers. Wade was the only commissioner to vote against the motion.

The lower 5 percent residential rate hike will be partially offset by increases of 8.3 percent for the base rate on large commercial users and 13.6 percent on the volume rate.

The overall increase in revenue would equal 7 percent, according to staff, less than the 9 percent revenue increase recommended.

A public hearing on the rates hadn't been scheduled Tuesday morning. County Administrator Rodney Shoop said he would like to hold the meeting in early June.

Murray told the commissioners that increasing revenue 7 percent this year would likely lead to 9 percent revenue increases in future years to make up the lost income.

A study of water and sewer rates last year had projected 14 percent rate increases each year.

The sewer rates are lower than projected in the study because the county shifted more general fund money into the budget, and the study overestimated the cost of refinancing the department's debt, county officials said.

The new base rate for residential customers will be $62.84, up from $59.85. The volume rate will be $4.06 per 1,000 gallons over 6,000 gallons in a quarter, up from $3.87.

The base rate for large commercial customers will increase from $82.35 to $89.15, and the volume rate will rise from $6.34 per 1,000 gallons to $7.20.

Both rates for smaller commercial customers will rise 5 percent. The base rate will be $62.84, up from $59.85, and the volume rate will be $5.60 per 1,000 gallons, up from $5.33.

The increases would come on top of substantial increases imposed by the commissioners on most customers last year.

In some areas, sewer rates jumped by as much as 93 percent and water rates by as much as 226 percent. Other users saw their rates decrease last year.

The county has about 8,600 water and sewer accounts.

Water rates were not affected by the vote. The commissioners haven't voted on the water rates, but have expressed support for the staff recommendation of a 2.3 percent increase for the average, 12,000-gallon customer.

The Water and Sewer Advisory Commission, which had previously recommended no rate increases, withdrew their recommendation Tuesday and said they hadn't had sufficient time to understand all of the numbers and processes involved.

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