WILLIAMSON — In a recent special Williamson City Council meeting,the city was proposed a plan to get out of the $1.2 million debt with Veolia Water, as well as maintain a cash working reserve that will allow the city to be in accordance to Senate Bill 234.
Senate Bill 234 went into effect June 12, 2015, requires that the city build an emergency revenue fund of $150,000. In order to build the revenue, water rather will have to quickly be changed.
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, that 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 suggests 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 Aug., 17 at 1:00 p.m.
A copy of the proposed ordinance is available to the public at Williamson City Hall and the public hearing that is scheduled for Aug., 17 will allow the public to make statements and have their concerns heard and addressed.
During Thursday’s council meeting, Mayor Steven Knopp and the council all stated that they are unhappy with the decision they have to make to raise rates, but they feel it is necessary to keep from going under.
Knopp said he wants to remind everyone that we are living in a time of economic uncertainty and the coal business is not what it once was and we are all affected by that. He stated that we live in a community where much of the workforce is now in a retired status and that means two things. One is that we are losing our friends and neighbors and the other is that we are most on fixed incomes. He said that the cost of utilities keep getting higher for the city, while its income is at constant or declining due to inflation.
“The net result is, and none of us like it, it costs more to provide a lower level of services than it did years ago when the population was greater and these are unfortunate economic realities that we’re all faced with,” said Knopp. “The water rates affect us all and we’re all acutely sensitive about the affect the increased rates will have.”
Knopp said that there is no other alternative but to do this and they’re certainly not happy about it. He said it is the only thing that can be done to try to get some kind of stability to the economic picture in the City of Williamson. He also stated that the people are free to register their concerns or remarks regarding this issue.
“It doesn’t mean that we don’t appreciate and understand what those concerns are and it doesn’t mean we’re not listening, but we do have responsibilities and responsibilities to you,” added Knopp. “It’s not a pleasant situation and it’s not one we derive any satisfaction from having to carry out.”
Councilman York Smith also expressed to those in attendance of the council meeting that he’s not happy with the decision either but he feels there is not a choice.
“I hope the people of this city understand what position we’re in and it’s not this council’s fault. Somebody is going to be held liable,” said Smith. ” I have to pay it, we all have to pay it. People are out of work and we do understand that.”
Smith said that this decision to raise the rates is the hardest one he has ever had to make in the 20 plus years he has been on the council. He said if it comes to it they will have an investigation to see what has happened to the utility board’s money.
“Sometimes you have to make hard decisions and this is one of the hardest decisions I’m going to have to make but it’s either we do this or go under,” added Smith “It’s not the council’s fault, I want you to know that. We try our best to do what’s right and fair for the people in this city. I know it’s going to hurt some of you, but it’s either that or don’t have water.”
Councilwoman Sherri Hairston said that she agrees with Smith on everything that he said and that she has to pay the bill too and isn’t happy about it.
Councilwoman Judy Hamrick also made it known that she was unhappy with the decision to raise the rates but she understands why it has to be done. She said that the mayor and council has spent a great deal of time discussing what has caused this large debt and what they can do about it, which she stated is very little, but they are very concerned with accountability of this incident.
“Accountability is being worked on and like York said, if there’s someone who needs to be brought to account, I think this council will do that,” stated Hamrick. “With that being said, any remarks you have are welcome but I will warn you that there’s probably not one that we haven’t heard. We’ve been open to remarks and we’ve received them.”
She said that the people have a right to be concerned because it is a hefty increase but there is no way out of it.
“I’m not happy about it and I understand that you’re not happy about it,” said Hamrick. “That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t come to the meetings and if you have something to say then you should feel free to do that.”
Councilman Matthew Newsome was left nearly speechless on the matter after his time to comment followed the others on the council.
“There’s really not a whole lot that I can say that the other council members haven’t already said,” stated Newsome.
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]