Gullet receives pushback on rate structure changes

by Andrew Batten

The chart above shows the impact the new rate structure could have on water bills.

Some Charlotte City Council members are unhappy with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities’ plan to modify how it charges for water and sewer service, a change that could see average users’ bills increase.

The department, which provides water and sewer service to more than 700,000 customers in Mecklenburg County, wants to add new fees, lower costs for those who don’t use much water, eliminate some sewer costs for those who use the most water and increase incentives for using irrigation controls.

Utilities Director Barry Gullet told city council members at a meeting Monday, Feb.14, the changes allow for “greater stability while having a lifeline for those who use the least water.”

The biggest bone of contention at Monday’s meeting was the department’s plan to lower sewer costs for customers that use more than 11,968 gallons a month.

The department charges customers for sewer service based on the amount of water they use each month. For every 748 gallons of water, users pay $4.31 for sewer service. If customers use more than 17,952 gallons a month, they aren’t charged for sewer service on that additional water.

A consultant for the department found that customers who use more than 12,000 gallons a month are mostly using water for irrigation, and since that water goes on grass instead of down the toilet, those customers were paying for sewer service they didn’t use.

So the department wants to lower the cap from 17,952 gallons to 11,968 gallons.

The change will add stability to the department’s revenue stream, Gullet said, since it won’t be bound to high users. That was a major recommendation of a north Mecklenburg task force that investigated high water bills.

To eliminate those costs to higher users, while at the same time cutting the cost to those using little water by half, the department has had to make up for the lost revenue by increasing costs for the average consumer.

Under the current rates, customers could see up to a $5 increase in their bill, although Gullet stressed he was presenting how the rates should be set and not how much the department will charge for water and sewer.

That caught Councilman Michael Barnes off guard.

“That’s not what I was expecting,” he said. “There are a lot of people who struggle to pay water.”

But at the other end of the spectrum there are users who are paying for services they don’t use and were essentially subsidizing the other water users, Gullet reminded Barnes.

But Barnes wasn’t convinced.

“Eighty-four percent of our homeowners will have an increase, but these outliers, the ones who use a lot of water to fill up their swimming pools, will pay less,” Barnes said.

Councilwoman Nancy Carter echoed her fellow council member’s sentiments.

“It’s a regressive approach to our billing system. I’m very uncomfortable with this,” she said.

The council held a public hearing on the changes, but no one spoke. The council is expected to vote on the changes at its Feb. 28 meeting.

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