Exeter council approves water, sewer rate increases

By 2023, single family connections for sewer, water will cost a combined $97.42 per month

By Paul Myers

EXETER – The Exeter City Council voted unanimously to raise water and sewer rates last Tuesday. 

Exeter residents had 45 days and a public hearing to formally protest an incremental five year increase that effectively doubles current rates. Of the 1,750 protests needed to halt the increase, the city received nine. Anyone who had submitted a written protest did not speak during the public hearing.

Before casting their vote, city council members weighed in on their decision. Councilman David Hails said that it was time to finally do something about the water and sewer systems.

“We use the phrase, kicking the can down the road, and it’s time to stop kicking,” Hails said.

Mayor Mary Waterman-Philpot said there was not a way forward without the rate increases.

“If we want to keep the water coming out of the faucets and fix the leaks that we have, I don’t see how we can’t go forward,” Waterman-Philpot said.

Rates will jump from a base water rate of $24.26 per month for a single-family residence to $47.74 per month over five years. Over the same five year period base sewer rates will jump from $22.18 per month to $49.68. By 2023 single family residences will pay a total of $97.42 for their sewer and water services.

Councilman Frankie Alves said that raising rates is not just about maintenance, it is also about improvement. A stark contrast from the menial increases intended to keep up with inflation. 

“It wasn’t what we are trying to do now, which is get ahead,” Alves said. 

City manager Adam Ennis said that there is currently no money for regular maintenance, and no money for replacing outdated or broken parts of the water or sewer system.

“There is no money to replace pipes, and some of these are 80-90 years old,” Ennis said. “You’ve got to squeeze every drop of life of every piece of machinery we got and replace it when we have to…that’s the least expensive way to do this.”

Exeter contracted with FG Solutions, LLC to run the numbers on the rates, and evaluate costs for the system. Art Griffith from FG Solution, who presented to the council last Tuesday, recognized that public works staff need to make weekly repairs to their sewer lift stations, costing an untold amount of staff time.

In addition, expenses for existing water system operations and management, debt service, new maintenance, new capital improvement projects and new replacement will go from $1.7 million in the 2019-2020 fiscal year to $3.2 million by the 2023-2024 fiscal year. The largest expenses would be for replacement of wells and pipes in the distribution system. All thing, if not for a rate increase, Exeter would have to forego.

For sewer, the expenses will more than double from $1.1 million in 2019-2020 fiscal year to $2.3 million for the 2023-2024 fiscal year. The largest expenses that would be phased in over time include lift station upgrades and upgrades at the treatment plant.

Exeter’s water and sewer master plans published in late August outlined the need for improvements. Exeter’s water system requires more regular maintenance to clean the pumps at their treatment plant, Griffith said. Currently pumps at the headworks which are the initial stage of the cleaning process that reduces the level of pollutants in the incoming wastewater, are failing. Grit is pulled into the pumps, causing damage and requiring more repairs and maintenance. The plant must be shut down during the cleaning, making repairs time consuming.

Griffith noted that Exeter’s single family residences have the lowest combined cost for sewer and water compared to Woodlake, Farmersville, Porterville and Lindsay. He noted as well that the line item can be somewhat misleading considering that it is unclear how each city is investing in their infrastructure. The numbers alone do not tell the whole story as some cities may use their revenues for water to pay down debt service instead of upgrading the system.

Griffith’s presentation noted that Woodlake charges the most for both sewer and water at $93.41 per month, Farmersville charges $77.61 per month, Porterville charges $72.59 per month, Lindsay charges $67.05 per month and Exeter charges 46.44 per month. Exeter’s proposed 2020 rate would climb to $53.84 per month.

Commercially, Exeter stands in the middle between Porterville, Lindsay, Woodlake and Farmersville’s restaurants and retail. In total, Porterville charges a combined base rate of $304.20 to their restaurants and $207.70 to their retail stores. Lindsay charges $277.81 to their restaurants and $132.81 to their retail stores. Exeter charges a flat $177.27 for both where as Woodlake and Farmersville charge a flat $161.70 and $102.08 respectively, for both.

Under Exeter’s proposed 2020 rates, they would charge a combined flat rate of $205.97.

In an attempt to pinch every penny, the city has opted to refinance some of their water fund debt. During their Nov. 13 meeting the city council voted to refinance their USDA loans in the water fund to  potentially realize a savings of $575,000 through 2045. Ennis said the loans carry a 4.38% interest rate, but NHA Advisors who is helping them refinance believes they can capture a bond for around 3.05%. The savings would be approximately $29,000 per year. But that is a drop in the bucket compared to the million and a half they need to make ends meet in the fund.

“Any penny we can save we are trying to do it. When you compare the $29,000 and then $1 to $1.5 million needed to close the gap, it isn’t anywhere what we need to get where we want to go,” Ennis said.

Under Exeter’s new 2020 rates, they would charge a combined flat rate of $205.97.

Residents will see their rates increase starting in January taking their water bill from $24.26 per month to $27.78. Their sewer rate will increase from $22.18 per month to $26.06.

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