WILLIAMSON — Water and sewage customers who live in the city of Williamson could see their bills take a major climb by almost 50 percent in the next few months under an ordinance proposal that would raise rates.
The Williamson City Council held a special meeting on Thursday, where the first reading of a rate increase proposal took place, to discuss the possible new rates and surcharges. The rate increase will allow the city to get out of the $1.2 million dollar debt owed to Veolia Water North America that dates back to previous city administration to current administration. It will also allow the city to maintain a cash working reserve, which is required by Legislature according to Senate Bill 234.
In order for the city to be in compliance with the statutory requirements of Senate Bill 234, which went into effect June 12, 2015, the rates must change quickly to build up that revenue. The Senate Bill 234 requires that the city build an emergency revenue fund of $150,000 that will allow the city to have money upon repairs for emergencies. The money spent from that revenue has to be replaced to balance out the $150,000 that is required.
Although no one on the city council is happy about the changes, they all find it necessary to increase the rates and charges to provide revenues sufficient to pay the expenses of operations and to provide working capital reserves.
The rate for water may increase by 31.2 percent and the sewer rate may increase by 17.5 percent. Additional surcharges may also be added to the monthly utility bill on top of the high percentage rate raise for $1.50 per every 1,000 gallons of water and $2.55 per every 1,000 gallons of sewer. The surcharges will only be applied to the bill for the next three years, which will take in enough money to pay off debt to Veolia. After the three year period passes, the surcharges will be dropped from the bill but the percentage rate increase will remain.
These rate increases will not affect customers of the Mountain Water District, who purchases their water from the City of Williamson at a lower cost than what the city itself purchases it for. Mountain Water has had the same rate since 1983 because of an agreement that was made years ago. The council is suggesting that the Public Service Commission approach them with a study and to come up with a possible new rate that would have Mountain Water paying their fair share.
A public hearing and the second reading of the proposed ordinance is scheduled to take place at the Williamson City Hall on August 17 at 1:00 p.m. The hearing and second reading are scheduled to happen back-to-back, with no time between events that would allow the public to further question or to allow the council time to propose other ideas.
The motion to hold both the hearing and second reading was motioned by the council except for councilwoman Judy Hamrick. Hamrick believes there should be at least five days between the hearing and second reading to allow ample time for further discussion.
“We’re backed in a corner and there’s probably nothing we can do about it, but there should be an amount of time in between where the public’s concerns are considered,” said Hamrick. “I certainly think the public should have a say.”
Mayor Steven Knopp replied, “We have our toe in a crack. We have to move positively to address this. There may be alternatives, but none of them are as good as this and many have been discarded because they produce results that are much worse than this.”
Knopp said that the council needs to get focused on this and take definitive action. “The longer we wait, the worse the situation gets and we can’t afford additional delay or we can’t afford to let this get any worse than it has already gotten,” stated Knopp. “The fact that action wasn’t taken in the past is not a good excuse for not taking action now.”
The mayor, members of the council and the public want to know what went wrong in the past for things to have gotten in such bad shape, as none of the council members today were on the council at the time the debt became a real issue.
The mayor stated that they have a huge problem and positive steps need to be taken to resolve it. “Everybody needs to understand that, regardless of whatever has happened in the past, this is today’s problem and it needs to be remedied,” added Knopp.
Councilman York Smith said he feels this is something that has to be done. “If we don’t do this we’re going to go under,” said Smith. “Nobody likes a raise and we’re going to catch the devil over it, but it can only get worse if we don’t fix it.”
A copy of the proposed ordinance is available to the public at Williamson City Hall and the public hearing that is scheduled for August 17 will allow the public to make statements and have their concerns heard and addressed.
(Cindy Moore is a reporter for the Williamson Daily News. To contact Cindy by phone please call 304-235-4242 ext. 2278 or by email at [email protected].)