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No action on Washington County's proposed water and sewer rate hikes

Another change proposed would give households that do not pay their bills fewer notices and less time before service is shut off

April 10, 2012|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com

Washington County officials took no action Tuesday on proposed water and sewer rate hikes after a public hearing during which one person spoke.

W. Robert Bloyer of Halfway was the only resident to speak at the hearing about proposed rate hikes that would increase the average residential water and sewer bills by about 3 percent.

Bloyer did not speak about the proposed increase, but criticized the county’s system of charging a base rate for the first 6,000 gallons of water per quarter. He said he lives alone and averages just shy of 3,000 gallons per quarter.

“I just think that somewhere along the way, the whole thing needs to be restructured to give effect to the actual usage, as opposed to an arbitrary 6,000 gallon minimum,” he said. “There’s a lot of people, I’m sure, that don’t meet that.”

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The Washington County Board of Commissioners also heard from  Environmental Management Director Julie A. Pippel about the reason for the proposed rate increases.

Pippel said the increases are needed to help fund the addition of “enhanced nutrient-removal” technology to two treatment facilities in response to state requirements, and to keep up with the rising costs for chemicals and electricity needed to operate the plants.

“The huge costs associated with wastewater treatment are continuing to go up,” she said.

County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said the next fiscal year will be the first since 1996 that the county’s general fund has not subsidized its water and sewer fund.

The county had been phasing out that subsidy and got approval from the state last year to take it out altogether, making water and sewer fully self-sustaining, he said.

Murray said the county had once projected the need for annual water and sewer rate increases of 9 to 11 percent per year, but has actually kept them in the 0 to 4 percent range.

Another change proposed for next year would restructure the county’s fees for delinquent water and sewer accounts. The changes would give households that do not pay their bills fewer notices, three instead of four, and less time, at least 42 days instead of at least 72 days, before service is shut off.

The changes would also prevent households from being charged for turning the water off and back on if customers pay before service is actually shut off, Murray said. In that case, only a $30 delinquent account fee would be charged.

Commissioners President Terry Baker said the commissioners would consider the input from the hearing and vote on the proposed changes at a future meeting.

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