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City OKs utility rate study

By Shannon Beamon
Staff Writer

Despite meeting expenses on a regular basis, Albemarle’s water and sewer system will soon be re-evaluating its rates.
At their last meeting councilors approved an approximately $60,000 contract with Raftelis Financial Consultants, Inc. to conduct a cost-of-service study, as well as financial planning, for its water and sewer system.
However, at least two councilors were not convinced such services are needed at this time.
The city of Albemarle is in the top 10th percentile when it comes to water and sewer rates in North Carolina. If that is meeting the system’s needs, those councilors said they didn’t see a need to change.
“The question keeps going through my mind, if (rates) are low, are we going to rase them just because they’re low? And if they’re high, are we going to lower them just because they’re high?” Councilman Chris Bramlett said. “I just have trouble thinking of $60,000 — which is a heck of a lot of money to me — to determine that.”
City staff said the study is about more than that, though.
Raftelis will analyze the cost of future water/sewer projects listed in the city’s capital improvement plan as well, Public Utilities Director Michael Leonas said. Using that, they will help the department determine how to stage costs over the next 5-10 years.
In addition, they will break down water and sewer usage by customer categories, such as residential, commercial, industrial or wholesale so the department knows exactly where the bulk of its sales is going.
“One of the things we want to do is make sure there’s equality there based on consumption,” Leonas said. “We’re not going to just raise rates arbitrarily.”
As for paying for the study, the money will come from the water and sewer fund itself, other councilors added.
“It’s not coming from the general fund or tax money like that,” Councilwoman Martha Sue Hall said. “It’s coming straight out of the sale of water.”
Besides, others argued, such a study is long overdue. The city has never performed a comprehensive analysis on its water and sewer system.
“We have nothing to even go back and compare to,” Councilwoman Martha Hughes said.
So despite a minority opinion, the Raftelis contract was approved 5-2 at the council’s last meeting (councilors Bramlett and Benton Dry opposed).
The study should take about two to three months to complete.

Contact Shannon Beamon at 704-982-0816 or shannon.beamon@stanlynewspress.com.