Belhaven increases rates|Power, sewer will costmore effective April 1

Published 6:53 am Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Community Editor

BELHAVEN — The Town Council increased electric and sewer rates “across the board” for town customers effective April 1.
Electric rates will jump 10 percent, while the sewer rate will rise 5 percent. The electric-rates increase comes less than two years after the council moved to cut the town’s power rates by 2 percent.
“We’ve done everything possible to keep (rates) as low as we can. We know it’s bad, we know it’s tough. We’re doing the best we can with it,” Mayor Adam O’Neal said during the council’s meeting Monday.
The town’s 2-percent cut came in the face of a 14-percent wholesale increase imposed by the N.C. Eastern Municipal Power Agency, which sells electricity to the town. Belhaven managed to trim its 2008-2009 fiscal-year budget and absorb that increase. Later, the agency again increased the wholesale price it charges the town for power, this time by 4 percent. To absorb that increase, the town tapped into its rate-stabilization fund.
With the stabilization fund running dry, O’Neal said, it was time for an increase.
“It’s come time that we need to adjust the rates. The stabilization fund is coming in short,” he said.
Ken Raber, senior vice president of NCEMPA, which is managed by ElectriCities, spoke to the council before its decision. He applauded the town for holding out on a rate increase for so long.
“I don’t know how Belhaven did it,” he said.
The town was the only municipality in the agency to cut power rates in the past two years, according to Raber.
“To accomplish what you’ve done is highly commendable,” he told the council.
O’Neal said it also was necessary to impose a 5-percent increase on the sewer rate, adding that “we’re still selling it under cost.”
As has been his battle cry for some time, the mayor said the taxpayers of Belhaven are subsidizing sewer services the town provides to the county.
Beaufort County owns the sewer system used by the town, which connects to the Pantego lift station, but the town services it. The town is responsible for fixing all leaks in the pipeline, maintaining the system and replacing any parts.
O’Neal plans to address the sewer situation at a joint meeting between the Beaufort County Board of Commissioners and the Town Council set for 7 p.m. April 26 at the Belhaven Civic Center.
“The purpose of the meeting is to discuss issues the town has with the county,” O’Neal said. “Sewer will be discussed heavily.”
The commissioners last came to Belhaven on Jan. 5, 2009, for a regular meeting of the board. This time around, the Town Council will tackle its own agenda.
O’Neal said he was pleased with the turnout for the commissioners meeting last year, but he expects a bigger turnout this year.
“The county commissioners are used to about five or six people showing up for their meetings. We want to get 50 to 60 people,” he said.
To help attract a crowd, the council will hold a pig-picking prior to the meeting.
“Come show support for the Town Council to push its points,” O’Neal said.