Possible water/sewer rates to rise in July

Published 10:27 am Tuesday, May 19, 2020

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The Columbia Board of Aldermen is considering raising water and sewer rates by 20.5% come July 1.

This huge jump is necessary to offset revenue losses from two major users which no longer are in operation: Whitecap Linen Service and Tyrrell Prison Work Farm.

The current budget (2019-20) calls for $677,834 in water/sewer income. Town manager Rhett White forecasts that line item will fall to $424,476 in the fiscal year starting July 1.

State law requires that enterprise funds, such as Columbia’s water and sewer operations, must make a profit, and the aldermen are prohibited by state law from using General Fund money to bail out the Water/Sewer Fund.

The 20.5% proposed rate increase was determined by a study published April 1 by Tyndall Lewis, professional engineer with McDavid Associates of Goldsboro, the town’s longtime water/sewer engineers.

The “average” utilities customer in Columbia pays $61.80 per month at present, based on water consumption of 5,000 gallons monthly. Lewis’ study shows. The 20.5% rate increase would raise that figure to $74.47 in the 2021 fiscal year, to $89.24 in 2022, to $108.13 in 2023, etc., for the five years incorporated in the study.

Two major obligations face the aldermen: maintain adequate operations for users, since they have nowhere else to turn, especially for sewer services; and keep debt payments current.

The water/sewer debt come July 1 will be $2,161,987, and payments during the upcoming budget year will amount to $47,198 in principal and $66,300 in interest, for a total outlay of $113,498.

Total water/sewer budget for 2019-20 is $727,384. White is predicting that amount will decline to $576,363 in the coming fiscal year, even though it includes a transfer from savings of $126,887. Revenues and expenditures are balanced, as required by state law.

The aldermen are working with elected officials in the General Assembly to get some aid for the town that will make the unprecedented rate hikes unnecessary.