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Washington County Commissioners approve water/sewer rate increases

April 16, 2013|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com

The Washington County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday approved its proposed quarterly water and sewer rate increases of about 3 percent, on average, to residential and business service in the upcoming 2013-14 fiscal year.

By a 5-0 vote, the commissioners approved the quarterly usage hikes, which were disputed by several speakers at an April 9 public hearing on the proposal. A formal vote by the commissioners then was delayed to consider the testimony.

Set to take effect when the next fiscal year begins July 1, residential and Commercial I Full Service quarterly water rates will increase by 1.6 percent — from $91.65 to $93.10 for the first 6,000 gallons used.

After the first 6,000 gallons used, residential customers will see a 2.9 percent hike and Commercial I users will see a 2.5 percent increase — increases of 26 cents and 23 cents, respectively, for each of the next 1,000 gallons used.

The largest increases for water service come in the form of 2.9 percent increases on the per-1,000-gallons rate for Commercial II Full and Volunteer services.

For sewer service, quarterly rates for residential and Commercial I Full Service will go up 2.5 percent, each increasing $2.55 for the first 6,000 gallons used.

Residential sewer service after the initial 6,000 gallons will increase 24 cents, or 4.2 percent, from $5.71 to $5.95 per 1,000 gallons used. The Commercial I rate after 6,000 gallons used will increase by 20 cents, or 3 percent, from $6.60 to $6.80 per 1,000 gallons used.

The approved motion also included informal approval for county officials to begin drafting a new procedure for charging allocation fees on new water and sewer hookups.

County Administrator Gregory B. Murray said allocation fees help fund capital expenses for needed water and sewer improvements.

In the past, the county has allowed new hookups for larger users, which can sometimes amount to $750,000 or more, to be paid off over multiple-year periods, Murray said.

“That’s an issue,” he told the commissioners. “If they go out of business, that’s another issue.”

The current policy can result in a property owner that leases space to a business being stuck with back payments if the tenant were to go out of business and leave, Murray said.

“They’re not issues that are insurmountable, but they are issues that will come up if we aren’t careful,” he said.

Murray said to consider the plan an incentive that certain businesses could qualify for if they choose to apply. Each application would be considered on a case-by-case basis, he said.

The goal of the incentive is to make Washington County more attractive compared to other competing jurisdictions and states when businesses are looking to locate, Murray said.

The application for the program would take into consideration the credit rating and business history of an applicant, Murray said. Commissioners President Terry L. Baker asked that the property owner in each case is given a say in the final decision as well.

“I suspect that many property owners will be all for this to establish a business and increase revenue,” Murray said.

Murray has said the water- and sewer-rate adjustments are in line with historical increases of about 2 percent to 4 percent, and approving the rates allows the county to move forward with finalizing its proposed budget for fiscal year 2013-14.

No property tax rate increases are included in the proposed $201.1 million spending plan.

A public hearing on the proposal will take place May 7, officials said.

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