A public hearing has been scheduled at 7:00 p.m. on April 12 at the Percy Thomas Center (Kent Island Senior Center) regarding proposed changes to the County’s public water and sewer rate schedules. The proposed rate increases and adjustments will serve to adequately fund the day-to-day operations and maintenance, emergency repairs, system improvements and fund depreciation. In addition, the proposed changes will help to encourage water conservation, and simplify the rate schedules, which differ throughout the service area. Immediately prior to the hearing at 6:30 p.m., an overview of the proposed modifications will be presented by Public Works staff.
There are a total of six rate adjustment proposals to be considered by the County Commissioners, who will be convening as the Sanitary Commission. In the largest rate increase scenario, a typical homeowner’s sewer and water bill is estimated to increase by approximately $2.50 per month.
The Public Works Advisory Board recommended the water and sewer rate increases after careful review of the 124-page study conducted by Springsted Inc., a professional utility rate consultant. Springsted, Inc. was asked to evaluate current water and sewer rates and determine an appropriate rate structure to adequately fund operations through 2020. The findings were also presented to the county’s Task Force for Government Sustainability which unanimously voted to forward the proposal to the County Commissioners for the public hearing.
Currently, sewer and water rate increases are each capped at 2.5 percent annually. This is insufficient to meet the long-term maintenance objectives, said Todd Mohn, Director of Public Works. The proposal for sewer rates recommends adjusting the annual cap to 4.5 percent to assist with the payment of the debt service for the new Enhanced Nutrient Removal Wastewater Treatment Plant on Kent Island. An alternative proposal would increase the annual sewer rate cap up to 6.5 percent to also fund depreciation of all sewer infrastructure assets.
The proposal for water rates calls for either a 3.5 percent annual rate adjustment to assist with funding future water system improvements or up to 5.5 percent annually to fund both water system improvements and depreciation of all water infrastructure assets.
Historically, all annual water rate increases were applied to the entire customer bill which includes fixed or ready-to-serve expenses and usage or consumption expenses. With the goal of promoting conservation, this proposal would hold the fixed fees flat and applying an equivalent rate adjustment to the consumptive portion of the bill only. By implementing this proposal, designed to be revenue neutral overall, customers that use less water will pay less and those that use more will pay more, said Alan Quimby, Chief Sanitary Engineer. This proposal does not impact customers that are not connected to the County’s water system.
Sewer and water allocation fees, which are paid once generally at the time of a new customer connection, are proposed to be set at $28.00 per gallon for new sewer and $16.00 per gallon for new water connections. Current rates are $25.00 per gallon for most residential sewer connections and $34.60 per gallon for commercial sewer connections. Water allocation fees currently range from $15.80 to $22.50 per gallon. In both cases these connection fees will continue to be adjusted by their respective annual escalator each January (5.0% for sewer allocation and 2.5% for water allocation).
The final proposal will raise the cost for Septic Haulers, who have not seen any rate increase since 1997. This proposal recommends an increase in disposal fees from $0.06 to $0.09 per gallon to cover the actual cost of treating septic waste that is trucked into the sewer plant for treatment. This rate increase impacts non-system customers residing outside of the public water and sewer service area that use private on-lot septic systems.
Mohn said these recommendations came after several years of study and discussion between the Department of Public Works Citizen’s Advisory Board, the Sanitary Commission, county staff, county residents, and Springsted, Inc. A public information meeting was held last summer. The January 2010 Final Evaluation Report by Springsted, Inc., is available on line at www.qac.org.