Columbus Council holds special meeting on water rates

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Columbus town council officials met with 10 residents and business owners of the town on Tuesday night to discuss an impending hike in water rates coming to its area customers starting next month.
This hike in rates comes after the town lost a lawsuit against Tryon Estates in June, in which the town had allegedly raised the rates for certain meters located on Tryon Estates property grounds during the summer of 2002.
Despite that loss, the town announced that it will file an appeal on July 15. “We intend to fondly appeal the court’s decision because we think we have a chance,” Town Manager Timothy Barth commented. “Whether it’s a good chance we don’t know and we don’t know exactly how long the appeal process will go on for.”
Currently, the commercial water rates inside city limits are $29.69 for a 5,000 gallon minimum. If the customer uses more than 5,000 gallons, a charge of $2.67 is added for every 1,000 additional gallons used.
Under the new rates, the flat rate for the first 5,000 gallons remains unchanged.
If a customer uses anywhere between 5,001 and 10,000 gallons, the customer will accumulate an additional cost of $2.67 for every 1,000 gallons used within that bracket. Previously, there was a flat rate of $2.67
regardless of how many gallons over 5,000 were used. However, should the customer now go up to the 10,001 to 100,000 bracket, the customer
will have to spend $3.67 per every 1,000 gallons used in this range in addition to the $29.69 base rate for the 5,000 gallon minimum.

Additionally, those businesses outside city limits will now see a two dollar increase in their water and sewer rates every time they reach the next bracket of the new system. Mike Fischer, who was in attendance at Tuesday night’s meeting, said he spends $350 to $500 a month to keep his car wash running. Fischer, owner of Bubbles Car Wash on Park Street in Columbus, said the new rates could potentially put him out of business.
“I don’t think we as business owners should have to bear the entire burden of the loss of revenue the town of Columbuswill undoubtedly experience ,” Fischer said. “It seems as if this was simply a political decision where business owners don’t get much say in what goes on. If I don’t have water, I’m obviously not going to have my business.”
Glen Smith is the director of engineering at St. Luke’s Hospital and, while at the meeting held by the town council, he voiced his disapproval of the new deal by saying the hospital will take a huge hit by the new rates.
“I foresee a minimum of a 50 percent increase once this goes into effect and that means an extra $3,000 to $4,000 a month to keep the hospital up,” Smith said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we (St. Luke’s Hospital) were one of the highest users of water in the county.”

Gosnell also added that only about 27 percent of the 161 commercial accounts connected to the city’s water will go over the 10,000 gallon amount in a month’s time.
According to Gosnell, any changes reflected in the hike in prices for water next month will fl uctuate based on the usage by the customer. Information compiling the amount of water usage by customers of Columbus was provided by Gosnell with certain pieces of data, such as identity of the customers, redacted.
“This payment system is as liquid as the water running through the underground system,” Gosnell commented. “It all depends on how much you use the water and you get charged for what you use. Some customers are pretty steady in their usage whereas others rise and fall depending on what month it is and there are several varying factors to consider. It seems like the spring and fall are when customers use the most water, though.”

Barth stated in the meeting the plans considered by the town could change should a significant amount of revenue be generated by the change in rates.
“If we receive more revenue than expected based on these changes, we will roll back the rates to their previous figures,” Barth stated. “We’ve done a couple of test runs and a few scenarios, but we won’t know anything until we enact the changes in August.”
Barth did what he could to dissipate the fears of the business owners in attendance at the meeting, saying he does not feel there will be a drastic increase in prices overall.
“Generally speaking, residents tend to use less than 10,000 gallons of water a month,” Barth explained. “This was discussed by the town board and we felt this would be best in having an ascending rate. We knew that changing these rates was primarily going to affect business owners more so than residents. However, Devon and I will be happy to calculate what the new bill will look like next month based on the average usage of water by customers should they feel the need to come in and see us.”
By Michael O’Hearn

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