Editorial: Rate Calculator A Shock To Many Residents

By / Editorials / الأربعاء, 13 نيسان/أبريل 2016 04:00

By WILLARD KILLOUGH III
Managing Editor

The Town of Carolina Beach announced the creation of a rate calculator on their website to educate residents on upcoming water, sewer and storm water rate increases over the next five years.
The calculator was a reality check to many citizens. Actually, frightening is a more accurate description. Town Manager Michael Cramer has advised the Town Council they need to sell Revenue Bonds  - that don't require voter approval - in order to fund a five year $57.8 million dollar infrastructure improvement plan. (See page 1-A).
The Council discussed this with Cramer at their February meeting and all five basically agreed they don't like raising rates 10% each year for water and sewer as well as an annual increase for monthly storm water fees. Yet they all basically agreed it's necessary to address aging infrastructure and to improve water quality while continuing to meet the needs of the citizens.
In February Councilman Steve Shuttleworth said, "I'm ok with it. Am I happy? I'm like Leann, no one wants to pay more. We have put it off long enough and I've been working on this now going into my second term on council. These numbers are the numbers. The work needs to be done."
He explained, "We've got to move forward... it is how we communicate and present it to the public and make sure we're getting them the information in a format they can understand. Whether they agree or disagree, I just want to make sure we are pushing information out that they understand this is what we're talking about and here is the cost benefit."
The Council also liked the idea mentioned at the February meeting about posting a rate calculator on the Town's website and reaching out to the public to let them know how the increases would effect their monthly bills.
Not to pick on Steve, he's just been very active and vocal throughout ongoing discussions on the topic.
As soon as the rate calculator was made available online last week, many people began contacting Council members expressing their dissatisfaction with double or triple increases over five years.
On April 12th, the Council held their regular monthly meeting and Cramer apologized for an apparent miscommunication between himself and the Council on what the rate increases would actually be over the five year period.
According to the rate calculator, for a household with a 5/8" or 3/4" inch water meter, if there was zero water and sewer use for a month, under the current rate structure and rates, the bill for water, sewer and storm water would be $47.85. In five years the rate (without turning on the tap or flushing a toilet - zero use) would be $76.50. If you include the $18.39 per month fee for trash and recycling pickup, that bill would be $94.89 regardless of whether or not you put anything in the trash or recycling cans.
Now, if you use 4,000 gallons per month, it's currently $58.36 for water, sewer and storm water. ($76.75 including trash/recycling). In five years, it skyrockets to $144.22 (or $162.61 including trash/recycling).
The Council was shocked and expressed concern along with a variety of questions for Cramer at the April 12th, meeting. They agreed to move forward with the Revenue Bond process, but agreed they would need more information before taking a final vote to commit or obligate the Town to selling the Revenue Bonds and locking the Town into a contractual obligation to maintain higher rates to pay off such bond debt. These are all projects that need addressing, but can the customers afford to pay for everything all at one time? Not likely. Sure, some people have ample room in their personal budgets. Many people already live pay check to pay check or rely on social security retirement or disability checks. They are the ones that will get smacked with a harsh reality. Business owners will have to raise prices to cover the increases. Several questions come to mind. Is our water unsafe to drink? Are large segments of our sewer system spewing sewage into city streets? Are all of our sewer pump stations ready to collapse? Point being, there has to be a way to spread the cost of these projects over a term longer than five years rather than committing to issuing Revenue Bonds that lock future administrations into charging such high water and sewer rates.
Once they are raised, there's no way those rates will be reduced in the future.
The Town can't discriminate and charge lower fees for Senior citizens and those on fixed incomes like Social Security or disability checks. But they will be impacted. The cost of living in this Town will become prohibitive for many people who may chose to move, or worse, not move here at all because of that increased cost.

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