BERRYVILLE — Most town customers could be paying about $6 more per month for water and sewer services later this year, based on a plan that Berryville Town Council decided on Tuesday afternoon.
Consultants say the town must start generating more revenue to repair and replace water/sewer treatment plants and distribution lines anticipated to wear out during the next two decades. The necessary work is expected to cost about $25.8 million.
Additional rate increases are anticipated each of the next five years, officials said.
Town utility customers currently pay a total of $76.20 per month for 3,000 gallons of water and wastewater. Under the plan that the council informally agreed upon, that amount would increase to $78.23, plus an additional 10.1% for water and an extra 2.2% for wastewater to help cover routine operating expenses for the systems, such as wages for workers running them, repair and maintenance costs, treatment chemicals, sludge removal, electricity and water quality testing. Those percentages would increase the $78.23 to $82.02, an increase of $5.82 from the current amount paid.
Customers using 2,000 gallons of water and wastewater currently pay $50.80 per month. Under the plan, that amount would increase to $53.82. The additional percentages to help cover “fixed fees” or “administrative charges” — council members couldn’t agree on which term to officially use — would mean those customers actually would pay $56.44, an increase of $5.64 from what they now pay.
Information provided by the town shows most of its water and wastewater customers use 2,000 to 3,000 gallons of each per month.
The rate calculations were done by The Winchester Star based on information provided by Town Manager Keith Dalton and Assistant Town Manager/Treasurer Desiree Moreland. Officials did not have exact numbers.
During their special work session, council members analyzed 15 different immediate rate hike scenarios presented by Pennoni Associates Inc. of Winchester, all of which were designed to achieve the same amount of extra revenue. Rate figures for each of those scenarios did not take into account any administrative charges imposed. Council members generally felt that all customers should help pay those charges.
Different council members preferred different scenarios. However, the one selected increases rates for all lower categories of usage, which most council members felt was fair.
“We want to be fair to all the people, all the time, whenever we can,” said Councilwoman Donna Marie McDonald.
Yet larger water and wastewater users — those paying for 6,000 to 10,000 gallons per month — would pay less for service under the chosen scenario, at least when administrative costs are not included.
A public informational meeting about the rate hike is being planned for sometime in September. Dalton said he will work with Pennoni before then to figure out actual amounts that customers can expect to pay, in the immediate future as well as the coming years. Information about the hike will be included in an upcoming water/sewer bill.
A formal public hearing is planned for the council’s Oct. 8 meeting. The rate hike is to be implemented then, if council members don’t change their minds by then or are not swayed by any negative public opinion.
A few of the rate hike scenarios proposed would increase some customers’ bills by 100% or more. Mayor Patricia Dickinson said she would not support any such scenario.
“I have a lot of heartburn” about that, too, said Councilwoman Kara Rodriguez.
Also, Dickinson voiced concern about the potential for rate increases to discourage new residential development in Berryville.
An analysis by Pennoni shows the town’s current water/sewer rates are roughly in the middle, yet a little toward the high end, of those of other area localities.
Dickinson said she was not ready to decide on a rate scenario that she prefers. Other council members said they had received enough information to make a decision.
“The further we drag this along,” McDonald said, “the more people are going to start asking questions.”
Based on conversations she has had with residents, McDonald said most don’t want to pay more, but they understand why their bills are likely to increase. Their biggest concern, she said, is why the council didn’t take action years ago to generate enough revenue to maintain the infrastructure better.