Hike in sewer-water bills hard to swallow

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I personally supported the proposed the one percent sales tax increase to pay for shortfalls in the amount needed to pay for the city’s water and sewer system. However, most voters didn’t agree and that ballot proposal failed in 2016.

Eureka Springs City Council recently approved new rates to make up the shortfalls. As a result, my bill went up about 45 percent from $36 in January to $54 with the latest bill. The biggest increase was $10 per month “infrastructure fee.”

The infrastructure fee, it seems to me, puts an unfair burden on the backs of people living alone who don’t use much water. According to the U.S. Census, 36 percent of owners-occupied households in Eureka Springs have only one occupant, and 54 percent of rental units are one-person households.

The same point was made by Nelli Clark before the water and sewer rate increase went into effect.

“I went down to a city council meeting and complained about it,” Clark said. “It is unfair for small water users like me. I use very small amounts of water. The rate should be based on the water usage. It’s awful. It is very unfair. I also hardly even have any trash and still have to pay for same as someone who puts out lots of garbage.”

City alderman David Mitchell said his water bill also went up quite a bit as a result of a new water meter, and increased usage, including from guests in his bed and breakfast, who “must take four tub baths a day.”

Mitchell said no one has contacted him about with concerns about the rate increase.

Mayor Butch Berry said he is getting comments about the water bill increase. At his residence, charges went from $64.52 in January to then to $87.01 in September.

Joyce and Eric Knowles had opposed the sewer rate increase claiming that it was unfair to charge an infrastructure fee that goes to pay for sewage bonds for people who don’t use the sewer system. Joyce Knowles said she is getting calls from people who are unhappy about the rate increase and want to know what to do.

“I am meeting with people who are frustrated with the inefficient government that we have,” Knowles said. She has advocated electing people to city council who are more sensitive to people’s concerns.

Knowles said a fourth of the population of the city is on the water, but not sewer.

“We are having to pay the same rate as the person with that benefit,” she said. “We are losing $180,000 dollars per year in water leaks, and that is not being corrected. We are being charged on a tier system that makes no sense. The single person is paying for 2,000 gallons of water they might not use. It isn’t fair. We should do away with the tier system. Walmart doesn’t make me pay for cabbage I don’t buy. It is like making Jewish people buy a Christmas tree.”

Lamont Richie, who serves on the Carroll County Quorum Court, opposed the proposal to increase sales tax.

“My opposition was based on the belief that the rate structure needed to be re-visited first,” Richie said. “At that time, the sewer rates had not been adjusted for years, and revenue from water rates exceeded the expenses. As a property owner on a septic system, I have resented having to pay toward bonds that had been used for sewer projects. Now we have the infrastructure fee. As a water-only customer, I still am paying sewer projects that have no connection to my home.”

Richie said he feels frustrated at the way the rate increases were done.

“Rate increases were a given, for me,” Richie said. “The council had been derelict in paying the level of attention needed to avoid the crisis in which the city found itself. 

“But I believed, and still do, that a comprehensive review of our rate structure was needed first. There are professional accounting firms that do this work. In fact, the firm BKD that performs the annual audit of our water and sewer funds is one. Before council adopted the rate increase, I was assured that there would be such a review… after council passed the increase. It is now November and, to my knowledge, no such review has commenced. As one who remains on septic, I reluctantly pay the $10/month infrastructure fee even though the bonds being paid off thereby went entirely to sewer projects.”

Ken Foggo, who owns the Eurekan Art Studio and Shop on Main St., was a vocal opponent of the one percent sales tax for the sewer bond improvements. He still believes that raising rates makes more sense. But he referred to the $10 infrastructure improvement fees as “an additional knife in the back”

 “I think that is not right,” Foggo said. “It should have been strictly rates based on water and sewer usage. I don’t agree with the city having spent $500,000 on new water meters that were supposed to increase payments to the city, but apparently have not. We were supposed to save a lot of with new meters. My meter has been replaced twice since 2000. Is that really saving money? There are places where the water line is gushing water they won’t fix. There are things they should get in order.”

Foggo said the city sometimes fails to control water pressure. Water pressure on Main Street, the lowest part of town, can be high because of the gravity-feed system. Once Foggo had problems with that and when his plumber put a water pressure meter on the line, it was so high it wouldn’t register on the meter. High water pressure can damage appliances and cause water leaks.

Foggo said sometimes the city increases the water pressure on Main Street on purpose in order to send more water to the sewage plant. When that is the case, and they cause damage as a result, he thinks the city should pay for it.

“They can’t just do things like that and not be responsible for it,” he said. “The city claims it has tort immunity, but that is only true when they are ignorant of the damages they are going to cause. If you do something deliberately knowing is will damage people’s property, you aren’t covered under tort immunity.”

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