Eureka council approves water, sewer rate hikes

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Eureka Springs residents will have a slightly higher water and sewer bill this June.

After holding a public hearing on the proposed rate increases Monday night, April 24, the Eureka Springs City Council approved an ordinance applying a fixed fee to water and a 21 percent increase to sewer rates. The ordinance was approved on all three readings, with the emergency clause approved as well. Mayor Butch Berry said the increases will be reflected in the June billing cycle.

Berry passed around a handout detailing the increases at the council’s March 27 meeting. According to the 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 changes will affect the average water and sewer 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 21 percent increase along with a $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 21 percent increase along with a $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 21 percent increase along with a $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 21 percent sewer increase and tier-based service fee would bring in $459,775 per year, the handout says. Berry said Monday that the revenue from the increases will be used to help the city make bond payments, with a portion set aside for infrastructure improvements.

“I’ve directed the public works director to start looking at areas with major leaks we can fix and make projections on whether or not we can install new lines,” Berry said. “That remains to be seen.”

Alderwoman Kristi Kendrick said she didn’t agree with the fixed fee on water but would support the ordinance anyway.

“I am not in favor of the water fee, not because it’s a fee but because it’s on the water to pay for the sewer system, and in my mind, that’s inequitable,” Kendrick said. “It appears that very few people other than me agree about this, and therefore I am going to vote for the sewer increase, because I do feel we do need an increase. I just think it’s done the wrong way.”

Alderwoman Peg Adamson reminded the council of its public meeting on the increases March 29, when a resident suggested charging consumers per gallon instead of using the tier system. Adamson said she’d like to see this idea considered in the future.

“I’m hoping that it won’t just be lost somewhere, that what these people had to say was very valid,” Adamson said. “I think it’s really important to start working on a new rate structure that is more fair and equitable for all the people in town.”

Berry said that idea sounds good but probably wouldn’t work in Eureka Springs. The water and sewer usage varies, Berry said, depending on the time of the year.

“You have to remember we’re a seasonal town. We’re not like Berryville or Green Forest that can depend on a steady revenue stream almost month-to-month,” Berry said. “Ours fluctuates, just like our sales tax does. That’s something to consider when you’re looking at rates.”

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