As the county increases its wholesale water rates, its customers, the city of Covington and the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority, are raising their rates too.
The county raised its wholesale water rates by 18 cents per 1,000 gallons to $1.77. This is the second straight year the county has raised its water rates; two years ago the rate was $1.51 per 1,000 gallons.
The increased rate is due to various reasons said water resources director Karl Kelley. The county had to purchase carbon, a fairly expensive chemical, in order to lower the level of disinfection by-products, which exceeded legal limits earlier this year. The department also had to raise more money in order to keep its excellent bond rating.
Here are the NCWSA’s new rates:
• Up to 3,000 gallons per month — $5.15 per 1,000 gallons, up from $5
• 4,000-8,000 gallons per month — $5.67 per 1,000 gallons, up from $5.50
• 9,000-20,000 gallons per month — $6.18 per 1,000 gallons, up from $6
• More than 20,000 gallons per month — $6.70 per 1,000 gallons, up from $6.50
• $6.30 per 1,000 gallons, up from $6
The increases will cost the average NCWSA water customer, who uses about 5,000 gallons, an extra 79 cents per month, said NCWSA Executive Director Mike Hopkins in a press release. He said the price increases are small compared to the extra costs the NCWSA is experiencing from "purchasing water, meeting federal and state regulations, and purchasing supplies and equipment necessary to keep delivering clean, safe water every day."
"Fortunately, we saw what was happening with the economy early enough to base our budget on a more realistic view of things," said Hopkins said in the release. "That means we didn’t have all our eggs in the ‘new development basket,’ and stayed within our budget instead of predicting increased revenue from new water and sewer tap sales."
In a follow-up e-mail, Hopkins said the NCWSA was selling an average of 145 tap sales per month during Newton County’s peak growth in 2006. That would amount to 1,740 for a year. However, in 2009, the authority sold a total of 73 water taps and 19 sewer taps for the entire year.
"In these difficult times, we wish we didn’t have to adjust rates at all," Hopkins said in the release. "But the reality is that our system continues to get older and needs investment in order to keep delivering service to our community. Many of the water and sewer lines that serve customers are four decades old, and must be replaced to reduce the ongoing cost of repairs. Old lines are being replaced with more durable materials to extend their useful life further into the future. The Authority is also realizing the benefit of earlier capital investments such as radio read meters installed a few years ago. This system means less staff is required to read meters each month, allowing those employees to focus on increasing efficiencies in repairs and other field operations.
The authority has a staff of forty-eight full-time employees and serves 22,122 water customers in Newton and Jasper counties and 6,048 sewer customers in Newton.
In addition, on Monday the Covington City Council approved the second reading of an ordinance to increase their water and sewer rates. The council voted 4-1, with Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams opposed and Councilwoman Janet Goodman absent.
The water rate will increase for every level of use:
• the base rate charge for the first 3,000 gallons or less will increase to $15.18 from $13.80
• the rate for users from 3,001 to 50,000 gallons, will increase to $.4.84 per 1,000 gallons from up from $4.40
• the rate for users of more than 50,000 gallons will increase to $5.04 per 1,000 gallons up from $4.58
The charge of sewer will be $6.00 per thousand gallons. The new sewer represents a 25 percent increase. Public Works Director Bill Bouchillon said the sewer rate has always been 110 percent of the water rate. However, he said the city still has very competitive sewer rates.
However, even with the increases the city will still be absorbing 3 cents of the county’s increase. Bouchillon said his department originally budgeted with the idea the county would be increasing its wholesale rate by 15 cents, not 18 cents. That 3 cents per 1,000 gallons would add up to about $35,000 to $40,000 per year, he said.
The city and county also raised water rates last year.