Raising the rates: ES council sets date for public hearing on water, sewer rates

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Eureka Springs City Council will present an official proposal for the increase of water and sewer rates at a public hearing on Monday, April 24.

The council set the date for the public hearing at a special meeting March 30. Mayor Butch Berry handed out a proposed ordinance increasing the water and sewer rates, saying the proposed increase is based on a plan the council considered March 27. The proposed ordinance says the sewer rate will go up 21 percent, with a fixed fee for infrastructure and improvements being applied to the water rate.

The proposed fee would depend on how much water a consumer uses. According to a handout, there were 1,885 water and sewer accounts in 2016, with 792 accounts in Tier 1 (42 percent), 848 accounts in Tier 2 (45 percent) and 246 accounts in Tier 3 (13 percent). Tier 1 includes those who use less than 2,000 gallons of water a month, Tier 2 includes those who use between 2,000 and 10,000 gallons and Tier 3 includes those who use 10,000 gallons and up.

The handout details how the proposed changes would affect the average water bill of a consumer in each tier. The average monthly bill of a consumer in Tier 1 is $20.70, with $11.20 going toward water and $9.50 going toward sewer. The handout says the sewer rate would go up to $11.49 with the proposed 21 percent increase along with a proposed $5 usage fee, making the average bill of a Tier 1 consumer $27.69. That is an increase of $6.99 per month.

The average monthly bill of a consumer in Tier 2 is $51.31, with $24.48 going toward water and $26.84 going toward sewer. The handout says the sewer rate would go up to $32.47 with the proposed 21 percent increase along with a proposed $10 usage fee, making the average bill of a Tier 2 consumer $66.95. That is an increase of $15.63 per month.

The average monthly bill of a consumer in Tier 3 is $2,606.93, with $1,176.32 going toward water and $1,430.61 going toward sewer. The handout says the sewer rate would go up to $1,731.03 with the proposed 21 percent increase along with a proposed $50 usage fee, making the average bill of a Tier 3 consumer $2,957.35. That is an increase of $350.42 per month.

The proposed 21 percent sewer increase and tier-based service fee would bring in $459,775 per year, the handout says.

On March 30, Berry said the council is required to introduce the proposed ordinance before holding a public hearing on the proposed rate increases. Berry said the council could have the public hearing before a regular meeting, and alderman Terry McClung moved to have the hearing at 6 p.m. Monday, April 24. The council voted to approve the motion.

Berry said the proposed ordinance came about after the council’s public meeting on the proposed rate increases March 29. At that meeting, Berry addressed a small crowd about the rates. Berry said the city has had problems making payments for the water and sewer bonds, saying the proposed rate increases will help the city catch up and repair some infrastructure problems.

“The…thing we wanted to do with this proposal is to be able to reduce our indebtedness and actually pay off our water and sewer bonds,” Berry said.

He responded to criticism of another proposed plan to increase the water and sewer rates 30 percent across the board. Berry said the council decided against this plan, because some citizens don’t pay for both water and sewer.

“You’ve heard the comments about how it’s not fair to impose the increase on water rates when a lot of people don’t have sewer,” Berry said. “This is only for the sewer rates. The water rates are not going to increase.”

He added, “Is it fairly distributed? We think so.”

Harold Meyer spoke on the proposed rate increases, saying the city has been making money off of water and sewer. Meyer said the city’s revenues increased by 25 percent over the past few years. Considering the revenue, Meyer said, he doesn’t understand why the city has financial and infrastructure problems.

“I looked at some water figures and 40 percent of the water leaks out. What is being done about the leaks?” Meyer said. “I came from a small town that didn’t have near this budget. Where is the money going?”

Chris Fischer asked Berry to explain the three tiers, and Berry did. Eric Knowles said he doesn’t understand why the city uses the tier system at all.

“It makes no sense to me at all, in part because the lowest tier…people who use 2,000 gallons or less are forced to pay for 2,000 gallons whether they use them or not,” Knowles said.

He proposed charging residents per gallon of water used. The price per gallon, Knowles said, could be calculated by figuring out how much the city pays to provide one gallon. He said the cost of bond payments and an infrastructure fee could be included in this price.

“It’s a very simple solution that’s equitable for everyone,” Knowles said.

Meyer, Fischer and Knowles were the only people who spoke at the public meeting, but there’s still a chance for citizens to speak up about the proposed rate increases. The council will hold a public hearing on the proposed water and sewer rate increases at 6 p.m. Monday, April 24, at City Hall.

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