Water rates could stay flat, but at what cost?

jmarks@fortmilltimes.comOctober 6, 2012 

— Some Tega Cay residents could avoid a planned water rate increase, although not everyone believes that move is best given the city’s growing water needs.

Cost estimate changes brought city leaders back last week to amend their Tega Cay Utilities Department budget for the new fiscal year – by reducing it. The move passed first reading, with one more needed to seal it.

Council voted 3-2 on Oct. 2 to reduce the city’s utilities budget after an estimate from the Town of Fort Mill, the city’s water provider, came in lower than expected. Mayor George Sheppard and council members Dottie Hersey and Chris Landvik-Larsen voted for the reduction of about $80,000. Members Stephen Perkins and Ron Kirby voted against.

If the reduction is finalized, residents’ rates wouldn’t increase from the past year. Otherwise they’d pay 10 percent more. The reason is that a 10 percent cost increase was factored into the $1.36 million department budget with the expectation that Fort Mill would ask for a higher rate. The town didn’t.

“We were hedging our bet,” Sheppard said. “We were doing our projections a little ahead of when they had theirs together.”

While the reduction would keep rates lower, it also could make future planning more difficult. Kirby wants to keep the increase to help cover costs that the city knows are coming. Like a water tower that city staff believes will be needed within five years. The one added seven years ago, Kirby said, cost almost $700,000.

“We’re looking at four years?” he said. “We’re at the point in our growth where we need to start looking at another one.”

Kirby also points to increases “all around us,” like one approved in Fort Mill’s budget for residents there and another being sought for Tega Cay Water Service customers in Tega Cay.

Sheppard understands the contingency argument. Dealing with water is difficult in Tega Cay, where there’s a public and private provider, and at a time when neighboring communities have gone back and forth in recent years with talk of water purchase agreements, new water plants and towers.

“It’s a hard thing to do,” he said.

If the reduction passes second reading, the fiscal year 2012 budget will be almost identical to the 2011 at $1.28 million. The previously approved $1.36 million budget includes four new backup generators for sewer lift stations, a 10 percent sewer cleanout and continuation of a meter replacement program.

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