The Star City City Council on Monday voted unanimously (minus absent Councilmen C.B. Leonard and Pete Kiefhaber) to raise water rates by 7 percent and sewer rates by 12 percent.
City residents won’t see the increase until they receive their April bills, which would reflect their water and sewer usage in March. Based on an average of 5,000 gallons of monthly usage, the combined water and sewer rate increase would amount to about $3.95 a month per customer.
The ordinance raises the current minimum charge for the first 1,500 gallons of residential water usage from $7.00 for the first 1,500 gallons to $7.50. Other increases would be incremental depending upon water usage. The various water meter connection sizes for commercial usage were also increased. For sewer, the increase ups the current minimum charge of $16.75 for the first 2,000 gallons to $18.75. Also, the charge to cut or bore a street is now $350.00
Before the vote, the council heard a protest from Drew Steed of Star City, who asked the council not to raise the fees.
“That’s a pretty good lick on somebody a month, I think,” Steed said, referring to what his increase would be. “You got elderly people, too; they’re put into shock also.”
Steed said the average cost for a water meter is $300, plus the extra 10 percent the city charges. He said a two-inch meter costs $395 plus the city’s 10 percent. Steed said he “found out our Water Department is doing pretty good, although last month we replaced 30 water meters that weren’t working.”
Steed said he wondered how many residences in the city had faulty or nonworking water meters, which would cost the city revenue plus the expense of buying new water meters.
Steed also said he understood that the city’s biggest problem for revenue versus cost is in the Sewer Department, including servicing or replacing expensive pumps.
“Remember, water is not hurting here, sewer is what is lacking: That’s what all this is mainly about,” Steed said. “I would just like you to think of the people and what you can do. Ask these simple questions, like I did. What’s driving these water and sewer rates up?
“I’m asking that you table it, think about it, think about what you can do,”Steed said.
Mayor Gene Yarbrough responded that the city officials had been working on the problem.
“We didn’t just all of a sudden cry out and start raising water rates,” Yarbrough said.
The mayor said the city is looking at changing to new meters that can be read remotely from a scanning device. Yarbrough also agreed with Steed that meter reading will sometimes be inaccurate and fluctuate according to who may be reading the meter.
“We’re trying to get enough facts and figures to present to the council,” Yarbrough said.
Economic Development Coordinator Dwayne Snyder then said the city changed out 25 meters, not 30. He said the meters were “working meters” but were collected by a company to be checked for accuracy. Snyder said the company took old, medium-aged and fairly new meters to “get a sampling of the system.”
“They replaced 25 meters with new ones at no cost to the city,” Snyder said. “And they’re going to check the efficiency of the 25 old meters — again, at no cost to the city — to see how much water, if any, (and) revenue we are losing.”
Snyder said the council then could look at figures to determine if the city is losing water, and hence, revenue, because of the inefficiency of the meters. They will also determine if the numbers justify paying for new “self-read” meters.