Rates set to increase in Winterville
By Angela Harne
The Times Leader
Sunday, June 10, 2018
WINTERVILLE — The Town of Winterville’s proposed 2018-19 fiscal year budget includes monthly increases of $2 in stormwater fees and $4 in the sewer rate while an expected decrease in the electric rate did not materialize.
The increase from $2 to $4 per month in the stormwater fee will help pay for more than $6 million in improvements and maintenance, officials said during a budget workshop. The sewer rate increase, which will bring the base fee from $26.83 to $30.83 a month, will help pay debt service on three major improvement and expansion projects.
Town staff had recommended a $5 increase in the sewer rate and said more than $5 additional will be needed in the future, but several town council members bristled at the proposed increases during the budget workshops. The council is expected to vote on the spending plan on Monday.
“It is always tough to make an increase, but we are elected to make tough decisions,” said Mayor Pro-tem Mark Smith. “I’m not crazy about the increase, but what alternative do we have? We have needs that need to be met. There comes a time when we need an increase. A $4 stormwater fee is reasonable. Will it be tough on some? I’m sure it will be, but it’s a very small amount. We all want our roads fixed, our lights on and our toilets to flush. This is my 13th budget. Sometimes needs have to be addressed. It is not easy for anybody.”
Councilman Ricky Hines agreed. “We must do our due diligence. We must look ahead at the future … we must plan for the future. If we don’t, we will be in trouble,” he said.
The town is already “behind the 8-ball,” according to Winterville’s public works director Travis Welborn.
“The sewer fund is in terrible shape. We don’t have extra revenue … the sewer fund is supposed to maintain itself,” Welborn said.
Assistant town manager Ben Williams added, “The problems are only going to get worse and the increases will only get worse … it’s like cooking, if you don’t wash the dishes while you’re cooking they will be piled up at the end of the meal.”
Williams outlined projects the necessitate the increase. One is already underway. The $2.17 million regional sewer pump station’s first payment is due in fiscal year 2019-20. The town’s payments over a 20-year period are $132,731 a year.
The next pending debt is the proposed $3.53 million sewer rehab project, which will reduce its system’s inflow and infiltration problems. The town will owe $220,533 a year on this 20-year loan.
The third future project is the town’s $1.73 million pump station rehab project. This debt payment is $108,207 a year and will require a $2.36 increase on the flat rate.
“We have been talking about increases (coming) every year. Now we have actual numbers. We have been discussing the debt service (coming on). It’s here,” Winterville Manager Terri Parker said.
Debt service on the three projects ultimately require a monthly increase of $10.06, but staff said the increases could be implemented in stages.
The town’s commercial growth and recent territorial agreement with Greenville Utilities Commission expanded its service area.
“We are expected to serve the area. It’s a financial piece,” Parker said.
Councilman Johnny Moye suggested the town should look at a tax increase over a fee increase to help pay for the expansions.
“Our tax base is the cheapest in Pitt County. Why do we keep adding fees even though our tax base is low?” Moye asked.
Increasing rates is an “equitable way of charging,” Parker said. All of Winterville’s sewer customers do not pay Winterville’s property taxes, she said.
A rate increase charges all who use the service, Parker added.
The town now charges its sewer customers the $26.83 flat rate for the first 3,000 gallons used. Customers also are charged $8.57 per 1,000 gallons exceeding 3,000 and $7.01 per 1,000 gallons exceeding 20,000 gallons. The average customer usage is approximately 3,725 gallons per month resulting in a bill of approximately $33.04.
The $2 increase in stormwater fees will allow the stormwater enterprise fund to support itself, Assistant Manager Williams said.
The stormwater fund is in place to cover costs associated with maintenance of the town’s stormwater infrastructure and to improve drainage throughout town. The town has 40 miles of stormwater pipes and more than 2,100 basins and structures, plus numerous outfalls and ditches.
Of its $200,990 annual budget, $124,000 is appropriated for maintenance, materials, design, equipment and construction. The town has a $17,000 annual ditch contract. This past year, it cost $60,000 to complete a stormwater project near Winterville Machine and $20,000 to replace 20 linear feet of failing lines.
Immediate needs within one basin alone are estimated to cost $6 million to complete. If the town maintains its $2 a month fee, it would take 32 years to complete and fund the projects, Williams said.
Town officials expected to be able to pass along savings in electricity rates after changing service providers from Duke Energy and the NTE Energy. The town has seen savings, Williams said, but maintaining the current rate will allow it to avoid increases in the future, Williams told the council.
In 2018, Winterville saw a 10 percent reduction in wholesale power cost. A five-year window projects Winterville’s annual wholesale power cost being estimated at $3.01 million per year and increasing to $3.85 million per year had the town stayed with Duke.
This same window projects the annual power purchase cost from NTE at $2.70 million per year increasing to $3.04 million in year five.
Projections show if the town does not decrease its rates now, it has the potential to maintain the same rate for approximately eight years or until 2026, Williams said.
If council opts to decrease the rate, a 4.2 percent increase would be required in 2022, he added.
The town now charges a $12.82 flat rate, plus 11.05 cents per kilowatt hour for the first 800-kilowatt hours and 10.7 cents per kilowatt hour for usage exceeding 800-kilowatt hours.
The average customer uses 1,200-kilowatt hours and is charged $158.21 a month.
“If we give the decrease, it balances out the stormwater and sewer increases,” Moye said.
From an economic development standpoint, Williams said holding its rates over an eight-year period is very enticing to businesses.
“We need to keep our rates where they are. This is still quite new … we can revisit it when we have collected more data,” Smith said. “The common sense solution is to keep the rate where it is and stable. This allows people to plan and manage (their finances). Many people like to know for the long haul what to expect.”
The Times-Leader serves southern Pitt County including the towns of Ayden, Grifton and Winterville.