Thursday, March 02, 2017

TOP STORY >> Ward ranks in top 5 for water rates

Leader staff writer

Not only are Ward’s water rates the highest in the area, but according to voluntary reporting to the Arkansas Water Wastewater Managers Association, the rates are in the top five in the state.

Even though a number of residents are complaining about the rates, the mayor’s executive assistant, Deborah Staley, said there was little opposition voiced when the ordinance was approved in January 2016.

Checking the minutes from the meeting, no public dissention was mentioned, and the city council unanimously approved the rate increase.

Staley said the increase is needed to pay off about $4 million in water bonds and maintain a debt ratio that is within state law. In 2016, Ward raised its sewer rates twice, once in January and again in September to cover the cost of the new $6 million sewer plant. Construction on that facility is slated to start the end of April.

Ward Mayor Art Brooke has said the new sewer plant is long overdue and believes the rate increases are justified.

“While I would have preferred the fruits of ongoing minimal sewer rates, certain system improvements are needed and mandated. Those improvements are not without great costs,” Brooke said.

Yet, the city’s water/sewer department posted a net income gain (surplus) in 2016 of close to $500,000 and this year revenues are expected to out-gain expenditures by $732,500. The positive net income is shown in the water and sewer system budget for 2017 as part of Resolution R-2016-13 approved Dec. 12.

After the increases, which were effective the beginning of the year, a Ward resident who uses 5,000 gallons must pay the minimum charge of $24.53 for the first 1,000 gallon, plus $5.46 per 1,000 gallons after, for a total of $46.37.

Now, if residents have a sprinkler system or use their outdoor faucet often, they could have a second “sprinkler” meter and that charge is also a minimum of  $24.53 for the first 1,000 gallons and $7.11 per 1,000 after, meaning, if residents have both meters and use 5,000 gallons on each, they would owe $100.34.

Plus the city passes on a monthly $5 charge from the Lonoke-White Public Water Authority.
And sewer was $8 for up to 1,000 gallons and then $4.50 per 1,000 gallons up to 4,000 gallons after Amended Ordinance WWS-7-91-E was approved in January.

In September, based on Ordinance O-2016-06, the rate jumped to $14.25 for any portion of the first 1,000 gallons and then $5.25  per 1,000 until the 3,000 gallon mark and $5.75 for the next 1,000 and $6.50 for the next.

All these hikes are to help the city cover payments on bond issues for the new $6 million sewer treatment. Construction starts later this spring.

Getting back to water rates:

Lonoke charges a minimum of $4 for the first 1,000 gallons of water used and then $3.25 per each additional 1,000 gallons. So a Lonoke resident, using 5,000 gallons, would spend $17 total.

In Jacksonville, the minimum charge is $9.32, which covers the first 2,000 gallons. Each additional 1,000 gallons, up to 20,000 gallons, is $6.31.  So a resident using 5,000 gallons would be charged $28.25.

In Sherwood, which recently raised its rates, the minimum charge is based on cubic feet used, with a minimum charge of $15 for 400 cubic feet and $3.75 per 100 cubic feet of water used above that.

A 1,000 gallons equals about 134 cubic feet, so a resident using 5,000 gallons in Sherwood would be using 670 cubic feet and be charged about $25.

Cabot, which has not increased it rates in over a decade, charges a $13.50 minimum, plus $3.20 per 1,000 gallons, up to 5,000 gallon and then $4.20 per 1,000. A resident in Cabot, using 5,000 gallons, would be charged the $13.50, plus $16.25 for the 5,000 gallons for total of $19.25.

In Austin, the minimum bill is $17.75, which includes the first 1,000 gallons, and then it’s $6.75 per 1,000 gallons up to 5,000 gallons and then it drops to $5.50 per 1,000 gallons. So a 5,000-gallon bill would run $44.50, plus a $3 charge from Lonoke-White.

The city is actually charged $5 a meter, but has chosen to only pass on a portion of that.