City Council moves forward on water, sewer rate hikes

Friday, June 16, 2017

The Lewisburg City Council passed the first reading of a proposed water rate increase on Tuesday night, but not without some soul-searching.

The idea of a rate increase has met with some resistance, although Lewisburg Water and Wastewater General Manager Trigg Cathey has presented studies to the council showing that increased costs, debt service, and required improvements to the system make an increase necessary.

Councilman Nicholas Tipper found that despite the data and his own opinion that he had to vote against the plan.

“I believe this increase is necessary to get a lot of projects we have now done plus keep up with things that will help us out in the future,” said Tipper, “but I get no support from my constituents.”

Without that support, he voted against the increase.

Tipper is the council representative on the Lewisburg Water and Wastewater Board of Directors and, therefore, is most familiar with the needs and requirements of the department.

He voted in favor of recommending the rate increase to the full council.

“Trigg does an awesome job and I don’t think we would put any of this on us if we didn’t need it,” said Tipper.

Tipper was the only vote opposing the proposal.

Councilman Jerry Gordon made a statement prior to the vote as well.

“I was against it initially but Trigg did his homework,” Gordon said. “I’d much rather see him run it than the state. He convinced me we need to do it.”

Water departments not maintaining positive financial numbers are subject to state intervention, setting rates wherever they feel is necessary to correct the issue.

The final proposal calls for six percent increases the next two years for water and 16 percent increases the next two years in the rate for sewage.

The initial plan had called for three percent increases to the water rate over four years and ten percent increases for sewer rates for two years, followed by five percent increases the next two years.

Two separate rate studies commissioned by the department agreed that increases in this range were required if the department was to keep revenues above expenses as required by state law.

For customers using 2,000 gallons of water and sewer per month, the minimum service amount, the increase would add about four dollars to their bill each of the two years.

This was the first of three required readings before the resolution goes into effect, slated for October 1. The water department is the only utility, per state law, that must have rate increases ratified by their local government.

The other issues on the agenda for the evening passed unanimously.

Councilmen passed on second reading resolutions annexing acreage on Franklin Road north of Oak Grove Elementary School as well as adopting the city’s budget for 2017-18.

Councilmen also accepted on first reading two measures aimed to ease development in the city.

One would decrease the set-back distance between alcohol permit holders and establishments such as schools and churches from the city’s current 500 foot distance to the 250 foot mark suggested by the state.

The other adds the International Existing Building Code to the city’s code, allowing for easier redevelopment of older or historic buildings.

City Manager Randall Dunn had said at the council’s work session that projects proposed for the city were being held up by the prior guidelines.

The council also approved the payment in lieu of taxes agreement with the Minth Group, that was proposed by the Lewisburg Industrial Development Board. The standard agreement for industries will give the manufacturer a break on property taxes over a five year period while becoming established.