City OKs 9.6 percent water rate increase

Published 7:40 am Friday, July 10, 2015

Elizabethton residents can now bank on an increase in their water and sewer bills for this fiscal year and every year through 2021.
In a 4-3 vote, the Elizabethton City Council voted to approve a 9.6 percent water and sewer rate increase for this year and update to the fee schedule at its monthly meeting Thursday. Dissenting voters on both measures were Mayor Curt Alexander, Councilman Wes Fraizer and Councilman Sam Shipley.
Alexander’s decision to vote no stems from his belief that the utility should already have the funds available to finance projects on its own.
“We’ve raised rates every year for the past 10 years,” Alexander said. “But, this is a democracy and majority rules. I accept it and now we can move on.”
Alexander also pointed out that the utility has already been making improvements without this increase.
“I know there’s infrastructure that needs repairing, but a 10 percent hit is a little too strong for the customers right now,” he said. “I’d like to see them do a little bit more with what they’ve already got.”
In making the case for the water rate increase, Elizabethton Utilities Director Johann Coetzee informed the council that action must be taken now to improve infrastructure.
“If we continue to allow the system to decay, residents won’t be able to afford the increase at all when it fails,” Coetzee said. Coetzee has been involved in budgeting out a schedule of increases that should bring enough funds to upgrade water lines, sewer lines and water tanks. Funds will also replace faulty meters, vehicles and equipment. The increases should also ensure the financial viability of the utility in the future.
This year’s total increase will see the largest raise of 9.6 percent based on residential usage at 3,000 gallons. Based on the same calculations, fiscal year 2016-2017 will see a 5.4 percent increase, 2017-2018 gets a 2.7 percent increase, 2018-2019 gets a 1.6 percent increase, 2019-2020 gets a 1.9 percent increase and 2020-2021 gets a 2 percent increase.
In other words, a $54 bill during this past fiscal year would turn into $68 by 2021.
Base water rates will increase by $2.50 during the 2015-2016 fiscal year and $1.50 in the 2016-2017 fiscal year. The base sewer rate will increase by $2 in 2015-2016 and $1 the following fiscal year. An annual 4 percent water rate increase will last from 2015 to 2021. From 2016 to 2019, the sewer usage rate will increase 4 percent and 2 percent from 2019-2021.
The water and sewer fund will meet state requirements for cash balance, according to the meeting’s packet. A projected amount of cash on hand in 2021 is estimated at $760,000. This is equal to the amount of money it takes to fund water and sewer operations for 27 days, Coetzee said. In the event of a major unforeseen expense, the agency will be able to fall back on this money.
There were no public comments during the hearing held prior to the vote.
The city also approved the Elizabethton City School System’s budget unanimously. Appropriations total $26,201,314 with $23,686,595 to go into the general fund, $1,524,819 for federal projects and $989,900 for school nutrition. The ordinance will go into effect on July 19. No one participated in the public hearing prior to the vote.
In other news, the council will not be moving forward with the design phase of a $2,370,000 project to renovate and add to the Elizabethton Police Department facilities. The contract agreement for Reedy and Sykes to provide architectural and design services is estimated to cost $142,000. The existing EPD office as well as the former Ritchie’s Warehouse building are included in the plans. The council voted to defer the item. Some members of the council proposed to hold a workshop to discuss the option of combining the EPD and Fire Department.
On first reading, the city approved a contract resolution asking for an additional year to complete the right-of-way phase and paperwork for the Riverfront Linear Path project. The memorandum states that setbacks were caused by difficulties in acquiring right-of-ways, various boundary disputes with the state and environmental requirement re-certifications. Construction is required to be complete by June 2017. This is the second time a year extension has been requested, according to Elizabethton Planning and Development Director Jon Hartman.
E-cigarettes were considered on first reading to be included in the city’s Non-Smoker Protection Act. This measure was unanimously supported.
Budget resolutions for the Elizabethton Municipal Golf Course and Elizabethton Municipal Airport were both passed on first reading.
The council also considered allocating a total of $72,103 to various non-profit and civic organizations on first reading. The organizations include the American Red Cross ($1,075), Elizabethton Senior Citizens Center ($41,778), Dawn of Hope ($1,500), Elizabethton/Carter County Boys and Girls Club ($9,800), Shepherd’s Inn ($12,000), Alzheimer’s Association ($2,450), Second Harvest Food Bank ($1,000) and the Friends of Sycamore Shoals ($2,500). The resolution passed on first reading.
The city is also considering updating the building permits fee schedule that was originally adopted in October 2012. This measure was also approved on first reading. No financial impact is anticipated.
Two items related to grant money for safety at Tweetsie Trail road crossings were added to the agenda before the meeting. One item grants Alexander permission to sign and approve paperwork concerning the grant money and the other was to approve a contract with the East Tennessee Development District to handle the administration of the grant.

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