Water rates are rising
City customers see another 10 percent increase
By Tara DeRock Mahoney
Senior Staff Writer
Madison water customers may have noticed a slight difference in their water bills this year—a 10 percent increase in the cost per thousand gallons, to $5.56 from $5.06 just a couple of months ago.
“There's been an annual rate increase for the past several years,” said Madison City Manager David Nunn in an interview on Tuesday. “These [increases] date back to the revenue sufficiency study completed several years ago.”
Nunn was referring to a review completed by engineers at Jordan, Jones & Goulding in 2003 that indicated the city was undercharging for its water relative to the costs of maintaining its then-current facilities and improving its wastewater systems in future years.
Accordingly, the city set out a schedule of water rate increases to bring its charges in line with its services. To date, the annual changes have gone up 10 percent each year since 2003, with one year in which there was a 15-percent increase. But there is light at the end of the tunnel.
“Next year the scheduled rate increase is eight percent,” said Nunn. “The year after that the increase goes down to five percent, and those are the last scheduled rate increases at this time.”
Unfortunately, noted Nunn, it's always possible for things to change. And the ongoing drought will not cause a decrease in water prices.
“I would never ask people to consume water for the sake of using water,” said Nunn. “But some consumption is necessary to provide revenue for the water system.” In other words, as state and local conservation measures are implemented, city water revenues go down. And since the city must pay its bond for the new water reclamation facility—as well as maintain facilities currently on-line—some revenue is essential.
Madison's residential water customers all pay the same rate, unlike some communities which penalize larger users with higher rates in order to force conservation. Madison City Council member Michael Naples is a fan of the city's even billing.
“We haven't yet considered these graduated rates—the more you use, the more you pay,” said Naples. “It becomes a class [issue]...the average Joe says, 'I'm going to have to watch my water consumption because I can't afford higher rates,' whereas the wealthy consumer is going to use however much water he wants.”
“We're on a level billing system,” agrees Nunn. “It doesn't matter if you use one gallon or a thousand gallons, you pay the same rate.”
Currently, Madison's water sources—Hard Labor Creek and the Apalachee River at Lake Oconee—are stable, and drastic conservation measures are not being mandated locally. But if water levels continue to drop, prices could go up again. For the moment, however, local rates are stable at $5.56.
“It's happening all over,” said Nunn. “This is the kind of thing that has to happen if you want to stay ahead.”