Water customers in Newton County and its cities will pay higher water prices for the third or fourth straight year beginning in July, thanks to stricter regulations and more expensive materials that are driving up costs even in a depressed economy.
Newton County's government produces water through its operation of the Lake Varner reservoir and then sells that water to the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority, Covington and other cities.
The county raised its wholesale rate to its customers to $2.16 per 1,000 gallons, up from $1.99 per 1,000 gallons, increases which both Covington and water and sewerage authority passed on to their customers.
Jason Nord, the county's water production manager, said the increased price this year stemmed from increasing prices in water treatment chemicals, as well as electricity, both of which are closely tied to petroleum fuel products.
Over the past few years, stricter federal and state regulations have also caused prices to rise, because they necessitated different types of chemicals and more advanced treatment techniques to remove specific contaminants.
In addition to higher wholesale costs, Covington and the water authority have experienced their own costs increases.
Water authority Executive Director Mike Hopkins said this year the authority is paying 5 percent more in expenses to switch from purchasing lead materials to purchasing low-lead brass, as required by a new federal regulation.
Another expense is moving and relocating water and sewer pipelines and fire hydrants on roads that will be widened by the county or state. The work will cost between $2 and $3.5 million during the next few years to move infrastructure at the Crowell Road and Ga. Highway 81 intersection, on Brown Bridge Road and to replace a culvert on Crowell Road.
"As an enterprise fund, the authority does not receive any tax money relying instead solely on rates, charges and fees," Hopkins said. "To reduce the burden to customers of large increases as expenses build up over time, the authority has chosen to follow a long-term financial planning strategy of implementing modest incremental rate increases annually. This allows the authority to continue the investment in infrastructure, as well as to offset the ever increasing cost of operating the current facilities."
The fiscal year 2013 water and sewer rates, which take effect July 1, will increase as follows (all prices are per 1,000 gallons):
- first 3,000 gallons (base rate) - $5.51 to $5.79
- 4,000 to 8,000 gallons - $6.07 to $6.37
- 9,000 to 20,000 gallons - $6.61 to $6.94
- more than 20,000 gallons $7.17 to $7.53
Sewer (based on water volume)
3,000 gallons and above - $6.74 to $7.21
The authority's budget for fiscal year is $13. 8 million, up from $13.1 million.
The authority's rates have increased for the third straight year, while Covington has raised its rate for the fourth consecutive year.
Public Works Director Billy Bouchillon said the city has seen its own increased water and sewer costs, including materials and fuel costs for maintenance workers and meter readers.
The city's rates will increase as follows (all prices are per 1,000 gallons):
- first 3,000 gallons - $16.00 to $16.90
- 3,001 to 50,000 - $5.15 to $5.45
- more than 50,000 gallons - $5.35 to $5.65
Sewer (based on water usage)
- $6.00 per thousand gallons with a 3,000 minimum
The city's projected revenues for its water fund are $11.13 million, while its expenses are $11.99 million; however, Bouchillon said the expenses includes several projects totaling more than $2 million. The city has some money in a reserve account to cover the difference.