Water, sewer rates discussed

Published 9:53 pm Wednesday, August 19, 2015

City officials on Wednesday outlined a plan for keeping water and sewer rate increases as low as possible during the next several years.

The city’s water and sewer rates have been a point of contention among residents in recent years as they keep rising.

“I really appreciate the effort you’ve gone to to put this together,” Councilman Donald Goldberg said. “Y’all absolutely made a concerted effort to show us … how we can control it.”

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Utilities Director Al Moor said the rates have risen because of a combination of debt taken on to build the young and growing system across a large area, lower-than-anticipated connection numbers during the economic downturn, and lower usage because of more efficient appliances and customers’ efforts.

The utility fund has debt of nearly $326 million, Moor said. And despite an increase in customers, the city has seen an 18.7 percent decrease in water consumption during the last eight years, Moor said.

The city has also committed to keeping the utility fund self-sustaining, so general fund revenues cannot go toward utility projects.

Suffolk residents often compare the city’s water rates to those of neighboring cities, but doing so is an unfair comparison, Moor said. The other four South Hampton Roads cities have between 1.3 and 5.3 times the number of accounts Suffolk does, are older systems, and are serving more densely populated areas. Some of them are also selling water to other localities, such as Suffolk.

The plan involves using a refinancing later this year to keep increases low. The plan would mean the rate would rise 37.6 percent in the next five years, versus the 60.4 percent they would have risen otherwise.

“It’s not ideal, it’s not perfect, but it is certainly, I think you will agree, better than the 35 percent increase over the next two to three years,” city financial adviser David Rose said during Wednesday’s work session.

By that time, the hope is that new connections will have risen to the point where they will help support the system, Utilities Director Al Moor said.

About $23 million in capital projects for the next five years also has been cut from last year to this year.

“That will help keep the projected rates down,” Rose said.