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— The way in which the town of Highfill calculates charges for its water customers may soon change if a new ordinance is passed when it comes back to the council at its December meeting.

Instead of charging for water usage on a tiered-rate schedule, with a set rate for the water service including the first 1,000 gallons of water, and charging declining rates per thousand gallons of water as usage increases from one tier to the next, the town is proposing to go to a flat-rate system, charging the same amount per thousand gallons of water to all customers within a water-customer category.

If adopted, the new rate per thousand gallons or any part thereof would be $4.55 for residential customers, $3 for commercial customers and $2.50 for industrial/wholesale usage such as the airport. The rate per thousand gallons would remain the same, no matter how much water a customer used.

The change would not be a rate increase, according to Frank Holzkamper, the town’s water works supervisor. It would only be a restructuring of the way water customers are charged. An increase in the water rates at the present time was not feasible, according to Holzkamper.

Highfill raised water rates 8 percent across the board in July of 2008 because the town’s water system had been operating at a loss. The last rate increase was to make the system self-sustaining.

The change would not make a significant difference on most water bills, Holzkamper said. Those using between 3,000 and 20,000 gallons of water per month would see no increase. Those using less than $3,000 gallons per month would see a slight increase because they would be paying $4.55 for the first $1,000 gallons of water - something the city was not charging for in the past.

“We were giving away the first 1,000 gallons of water to each customer,” Holzkamper said, adding that this amounted to near $3,000 per month.

The proposed change is the result of recommendations made by Community Resource Group and adopted by the Highfill Water Board after a comprehensive rate study was completed on Highfill’s water system. The proposed flat-rate or fixed-cost structure was recommended because it is a more fair way of charging customers for their water usage and it encourages water conservation.

In a letter presented to the council, Holzkamper explained that the current tier water-rate structure does not encourage water conservation because the water rates decline as usage goes up. Holzkamper also said the fixed-rate structure would be “easier to understand and manage.”

Also recommended by the American Water Works Association is a monthly meter service charge for each meter installed, with charges varying based on the size of the meter because of the costs to replace meters and the effects of larger meters on the number of water customers the system could potentially serve.

Monthly meter charges (charged in addition to water usage each month) would be $25 for a 5/8-inch meter (the most common residential meter); $35 for a 1-inch meter; $45 for a 1.5-inch meter; $72.50 for a 2-inch meter; $275 for a 3-inch meter; $350 for a 4-inch meter; $525 for a 6-inch meter; and $725 for an 8-inch meter. In addition to meter replacement costs and the higher cost for the larger meters, the greater meter charge for larger meters is to compensate the water system for the reduced capacity on the system - for example, a 3-inch meter would have the capacity to use as much water as 11 standard 5/8-inch meters, thus reducing the number of water customers which could be serviced by a line in the water system.

The proposed ordinance includes an emergency clause, so if it is passed with rules suspended and on three readings with a single vote at the December meeting, it could be put into effect immediately and be in place for 2010 billing cycles.

News, Pages 6 on 11/18/2009

Print Headline: Flat-rate on agenda for Highfill’s water

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