April 13, 2019
By: Dwayne Page
Most customers of Alexandria’s Water and Sewer Utility will likely see an increase in rates later this year to comply with a state law that requires utilities to operate “in a net positive position.”
The city was recently informed that it needed to adopt a plan to correct the issue or be subject to the state setting the rates for the utility.
(VIEW ENTIRE SPECIAL MEETING PRESENTATION OF MTAS CONSULTANT RALPH CROSS TO THE ALEXANDRIA MAYOR AND ALDERMEN THURSDAY NIGHT)
For at least three years Alexandria’s water and sewer fund has lost money operating in the “red” which is in violation of state law.
Under the law, if a utility continues to operate at a loss for more than two years, the state has the authority to force rate increases to make it solvent.
Alexandria is currently under an order from the state’s water and wastewater financing board to come up a plan for addressing the concern by April 19.
In order to prepare a response, Alexandria asked the municipal technical advisory service (MTAS) to conduct a rate analysis to essentially give the city guidance on how much rates should be adjusted to bring the utility into compliance.
The study has now been completed and Ralph Cross, an MTAS consultant met with the Alexandria Mayor and Aldermen Thursday night in a special called meeting to review it in a power point presentation.
Cross said the utility system “has been experiencing significant losses in income for the last few years” and “the customer base is growing slowly.” In addition, he said the system “was not [adequately] funding depreciation because it was losing money.” Capital improvements are also needed and that comes with more depreciation costs,” he said.
According to Cross, the audited numbers show that while the utility’s operating revenue has increased from $640,817 to $702,683 within the last three years, operating expenses have exceeded income going from $655,610 to $804,844 in the same time period. After interest payments on debt are factored in, the loss is even greater. Cross said the loss (change in net position) for the 2017-18 year was $131,283, up from a loss of $44,757 during the 2015-16 year.
Also in order to comply with the state’s order, Alexandria has to offer a five year plan of action for making capital improvements to the water and sewer system. Cross said the MTAS study covers that including a plan on how the city will pay for it. The city is hoping to obtain funding through a $1.1 million Rural Development Loan, a State Revolving Fund Loan, and a Community Development Block Grant for the needed projects.
Cross said a 15% increase in revenue is suggested next fiscal year in the water department and a 10% increase in the sewer fund. The growth rate in revenues for years 2-5 would be less.
“This is what I think you need to have as a staged implementation of revenue increases but this doesn’t mean a 15% rate increase. It means you need 15% more revenue (water fund) and a 10% increase in revenue (sewer fund) to meet the demands starting July 1,” said Cross.
“That’s 15% more revenue this year beginning July 1; 7% more next year; followed by annual increases of 3% for water through 2023-24. The sewer fund needs 10% more revenue this year starting July 1 followed by annual 3% increases in revenue through 2023-24,” Cross continued.
As a result, Cross and his department came up with a proposed rate structure for the system’s 970 water customers and 405 sewer customers that would minimize the impact on the low-end users.
The proposed rates offered by Cross are as follows:
Current water and sewer rates would not change for customers inside the city using the minimum up to 2,000 gallons per month. Their water bill would remain at $26.00 and their sewer at $20.00 per month. But for usage above the minimum, water and sewer customers would pay $10.40 per thousand, up from the current rate of $7.77 per thousand.
For example, an inside the city water customer who uses 5,000 gallons per month would see their monthly bill go from $49.31 to $57.20 per month while bills for sewer customers using 5,000 gallons a month would jump from a current bill of $43.31 to $51.20 per month.
Water customers outside the city would pay $31.20 per month for the minimum plus $12.48 per thousand above the minimum, up from the current rate of $7.77 per thousand.
Cross said if Alexandria adopts the plan proposed by MTAS “it will get the state satisfied that you are in compliance with TCA (state law) and you will be free and clear of their oversight.”
During Thursday night’s special meeting, the Alexandria Aldermen voted to adopt the plan as presented by MTAS as the city’s response to the state water and wastewater financing board to comply with the order but no rate increases will be implemented right away.
If the state board accepts the city’s response, the board of mayor and aldermen must approve the rate structure by ordinance as part of the 2019-20 budget process in May and June to take effect July 1, 2019