Council approves water rate changes

by Andrew Batten

The Charlotte City Council approved changes Feb. 28, to how residents are charged for the water they use, which could result in higher bills for those who use the least while lowering the bills for those who use the most.

Under the new method, more than 90 percent of customers will pay up to $6 more each month for water and sewer service. The increase is due to two new “availability” fees of $3.73 for sewer and $2.19 for water. The increases are dependent on how much the utility plans to charge for water. The department will present those rates in March.

The changes, Councilman Warren Cooksey, said will keep the utility from being reliant on heavy water users to support its bottom line.

“The existing methodology has a weakness and that is that when we have tremendous swings in water use in a drought situation or in a heavy rain situation, we become very vulnerable to the need to do dramatic rate increases,” Cooksey said.

The department addressed those swings in water use, which also means swings in revenue, by adding availability fee of about $2.19 that all customers will pay. That could help the utility since it would no longer be dependent on high-volume customers using a lot of water to support its bottom line.

At the same time, the department will lower sewer costs for customers that use more than 11,968 gallons a month. The department charges customers for sewer services based on the amount of water they use each month. A consultant for the department found that customers who use more than 12,000 gallons a month are mostly irrigating, and since that water goes on grass instead of down the toilet, those customers were paying for sewer service they didn’t use.

But some say the new method encourages people to use more water. Councilwoman Patsy Kinsey pressed utilities director Barry Gullet about softening the department’s conservation message.

Those high level water users will still pay more proportionally for their water, Gullet replied.

“The people who use the most water will still pay the highest rate,” Gullet said. “We believe that conservation is very important and the rate method actually encourages people to conserve water.

The new method also adds incentives for customers who install smart irrigation controls, Gullet added.

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