Council nails down new rates for utility customers
By LYNETTE SOWELL
After multiple discussions during multiple meetings after the City of Copperas Cove released the results of its water rate study in July, the Copperas Cove city council gave its final direction to the city staff about rate changes for utility customers.
Tuesday night’s discussion involved real-time number crunching with the assistance of Angie Flores, who represented Raftelis, the consultant which conducted the study for the City of Copperas Cove. Both she and the city’s budget director/deputy city manager, Ryan Haverlah, fielded questions about rate scenarios, how proposed rates would affect the water and sewer fund revenue and also how it would affect residential water customers’ bills. Haverlah plugged in a variety of rates suggested by the council, so they could see the effect on customer bills with water usage ranging from 4,000 gallons to as much as 30,000 gallons.
The council settled on a base rate for water at $11.77, up from $11. Volumetric water rate will go to $4.50 per 1,000 gallons for both regular meters and sprinkler meters, up from $4.05. The sewer base rate will go to $12 monthly from $11, with the sewer volumetric rate going to $6 per 1,000, up from $5.67.
The council decided to go with rate increases as of Jan. 1, 2018. Before increases occur, the rates must be added to the fee schedule and formally voted on by the council at a future meeting.
Councilman Jay Manning objected to the idea of essentially “forcing” higher-volume water customers to install sprinkler meters, were the winter averaging and volumetric floor to be removed, stating that action would “cause a lot of heartburn” with the bill increases.
“I think there’s a way we can get where we want to go without raising anyone’s bill more than 10 percent,” said Manning,
Making up declining revenues compared to the cost of service so the water and sewer’s ideal fund balance made up some of the discussion surrounding the rate increases.
Councilman George Duncan said during the discussion that he didn’t want the focus of rate changes to be primarily on bringing the fund balance up to the ideal fund balance amount.
“To use the ideal fund balance and the deficit as a basis for increasing water rates, seems kind of ludicrous to me,” Duncan said. “We did this; the council did this at some point in time, and we accepted we were under the fund balance.”
However, councilman Dan Yancey said the ideal fund balance must be considered, as not meeting that balance could damage the city’s bond rating.
“We’re going to suffer on rates, and we’re going to suffer whenever we go out to do capital improvement projects,” Yancey said. “It’s kind of pay me now, pay me later.” He called the 90-day fund balance an industry standard.
City manager Andrea Gardner said one of the reasons the water/sewer fund is in this predicament is because of past council’s unwillingness to raise rates and the same discussion was had with the council six years ago.
“We got in this position because we didn’t increase the rates when we should have increased the rates. This is not an accident,” Gardner said. “Councils of the past were told, but rates were not increased to the level that they needed to, or at all.”
Historically, the base rates of $11 for both water and sewer have been unchanged as far back as 2011. The volumetric rates for both water and sewer have been raised incrementally every year, except for 2016. The water volumetric rate has risen from $2.98 in 2011 to the present rate of $4.05 per 1,000 gallons since 2015. The sewer volumetric rate has risen from $4 since 2011 to its present $5.67 for all customers, whether residential or commercial.
The council has decided to keep the winter averaging and the 8,000-gallon volumetric floor. Tiered water rates were removed from the proposed changes.
At a previous meeting, the council backed off any further consideration of eliminating the senior citizen discount until the city can obtain a legal opinion from the State Attorney General office.