Residents of Exeter may see a hike in their sewer, water and refuse rates sometime around the end of this year.
The proposed increases are needed to keep the city services funding in the black and to cover maintenance of the sewer and water systems, said Daymon Qualls, director of Public Works for the city. Qualls said the city is just beginning the process of approving rate hikes, and citizens will get their chance to weigh in on the topic before any changes are made.
“We’re very early into this process,” he said. “For almost a year, city staff and our engineering firm, Quad Knopf, have been looking at our rates to see if they’re appropriate.”
‘Relatively Minor Adjustments’
What they found was the city’s funds for these basic services were slowly eroding, meaning customers may have to pay more to keep the toilets flushing and the tap water running. For sewer and water, the rate change should be a “relatively minor adjustment,” Qualls said. The same is not true of for refuse collection.
“Our refuse fund has been failing for some time,” Qualls said. “It’s going to need more attention.”
The changes proposed include a 7.5% increase for the cost of water, from $20.65 to $22.20 for basic residential service; a 1.5% increase for sewer service, meaning a change from $20 to $20.30; and a much larger 13.8% increase for refuse removal, from $16.60 to $18.89. The increases, Qualls said, will not exceed the change in the Consumer Price Index, which represents an average rise in overall costs for a typical household in the area. But, all of the rate increases are subject to change before the Council makes its final call.
“All of this is subject to change before the hearing date,” Qualls said. “This is just a snapshot of where we’re at based on our fee study.”
Public Hearings Coming
The city has not increased its rates recently, and before the city council makes a decision the public will get its chance to talk about it at a public hearing scheduled for Tuesday, October 27 at City Hall. Because the city’s funds for these services has been historically strong, rate increases have been rare.
“There were a few years our fund was doing really well, and we went to council and chose not to do an increase that year,” Qualls said.
Should the council approve the rate changes, users can expect to see their bills go up in early 2016.
“We anticipate by the first of the year,” Qualls said of the possible increases. “We may even do it sooner. A lot of that will depend on how quickly we can get it together and what council wants to do.”
The city currently services about 3,300 households. There is no low-income program available.
Part of the additional fees will go toward ensuring the city’s basic services continue to be available. And, the drought is playing a roll.
“We have a lot of needs around the city with regards to our infrastructure,” Qualls said. “One of the things we’ve got to look closely at is a new well. As far as the sewage, the state now requires sludge beds to be lined.”
Sludge beds are used at the city’s Waste Treatment Facility to store effluent, and currently there are beds that cannot be used.
“We’re out of room,” Qualls said.