City Council to consider water and sewer rate hike ordinance

By Thomas Wilson
STAR STAFF
twilson@starhq.com

   Elizabethton City Council members on Tuesday will consider on second reading an ordinance to increase water and sewer rates for customers of the city's utility system.
   The council voted 5-1 to approve the ordinance at their Jan. 9 meeting. Councilman Pat "Red" Bowers voted no, while council member Diane Morris was absent.
   The state's Waste Water Finance Board directed the city in November to modify the utility rate structure to fund the water and sewer system.
   According to the water/sewer ordinance, the municipal water rate for customers living inside the city limits would increase from the current rate of $5.20 to $6.24 for the first 1,000 gallons of water used, while metered sewer rates for municipal customers would rise from $7.89 to $9.47.
   Regional system customers living outside the city limits would see their water rate rise from $9.70 to $11.64 for the first 1,000 gallons of water used.
   The city also sells water at wholesale rates to the North Elizabethton, Siam and Chinquapin Grove utility districts.
   "We average buying 4,500 gallons a day," said Grant Bennett, Siam Utility District operator. "We only got a few meters on the city,"
   Bennett said the Siam district had not contemplated raising their own water rates to offset the proposed increase in city wholesale prices.
   Under the ordinance, wholesale water rates to utility district purchasing water from the city would also increase from $400 for the first 100,000 gallons to $425.
   "Most of the time, we just keep a small amount going," said Bennett. "It has went down, we weren't getting (water) off of them for about one year."
   Serving approximately 1,000 customers, the Siam Utility District operates two wells and a filter plant and runs as a mostly self-sufficient utility.
   "We primarily furnish our own water now," said Doris Lovelace, office manager of the Siam district.
   However, state law requires the district to purchase a minimum amount of water from the city as a backup source in case the district lost spring sources.
   "If we didn't use a drop we'd still have to pay them for the month," she said.
   The Siam district's board of commissioners last approved a rate increase for customers in March 2001, said Bennett.
   Gordon Welch -- a commissioner with the North Elizabethton Water Co-op -- told the council on Jan. 9 that the cooperative's water bill had averaged $12,100 during the first six months of 2002. That average jumped to $15,100 from June to November, Welch said.
   Welch pleaded with the council to "work with us for the next three to four years" to keep rates and purchases attainable for the district.
   He said the larger water purchases were primarily due to broken water lines kindled by the current U.S. Highway 91 project.
   "The last six months have just about done us in," said Welch.
   City officials have cited closure of Alcoa Extrusions costing $200,000 in lost water/sewer revenues plus and new municipal accounting regulations requiring cities to fully fund all depreciation costs as two major factors that have compelled the rate increase.
   Capital projects including a state-mandated $2.2 million water filtration system at the Big Springs Water Plant and the $1.1 million construction sewer line connecting the West Interceptor to the sewage treatment plant added more capital costs.
   The council will meet on Tuesday at 12:15 p.m. at City Hall to consider the water and sewer rate restructuring ordinance.