BERRYVILLE — Proposed changes in Berryville’s water and sewer rates will be the focus of a public meeting at 7 p.m. today.

Utility customers will be able to ask questions following presentations by town staff members and an engineer, according to Town Manager Keith Dalton.

A Winchester-based firm, Pennoni Associates Inc., recently studied Berryville’s water and sewer systems and rate structure. The firm identified more than $35 million in improvements needed by the aging systems during the next 20 years to keep them from failing.

The rate changes are intended to help the town pay for the improvements and operate the systems more efficiently.

Pennoni is recommending that Berryville increase its water rate by at least 10.2% and its sewer rate by at least 2.3% annually for the next five years. The firm also is recommending that the town increase its water service availability fee by at least 130% but reduce its sewer service availability fee by 42%.

Those adjustments are based on factors including how much each system is used, anticipated future demand for water and sewer services, the systems’ operations and maintenance expenses and costs for any changes they may need to accommodate future growth by the town and/or more stringent state and federal environmental laws.

A full copy of Pennoni’s study has been placed online at www.berryvilleva.gov/DocumentCenter/View/843/Pennoni-Utility-Rate-Study. A summary of the findings and how the town wants to handle them was included in August water/sewer bills.

The town is proposing reducing its water rate by 25 cents, from $8.40 to $8.15 per 1,000 gallons used. The sewer rate is proposed to increase by 27 cents, from $17 to $17.27 per 1,000 gallons of water used.

Plans are to charge a new administrative fee of $2.50 for each service.

As a result, the total monthly water/sewer bill for customers using 1,000 gallons of each would be $30.42, an increase of $5.02 from the current $25.40. For each additional 1,000 gallons used, the total bill would increase by another two cents — $5.04 for 2,000 gallons, $5.06 for 3,000 gallons and so on.

The minimum monthly fee for customers using less than 1,000 gallons would remain $5 for water and $15 for sewer. With the administrative fee, however, the total bill would increase by $5, from $20 to $25.

In determining those rates, Dalton said, council members were concerned about any rate hikes proposed “being too much too fast” for customers using lesser amounts of water and sewer capacity.

The administrative fees are intended to cover expenses such as water quality testing, meter reading and billing costs, Dalton said. Those are costs that, out of fairness, all users of the systems should help pay, he said.

By charging the fees, enough revenue can be generated to fulfill needs while reducing the water rate, he added.

The availability fee for a new water connection served by a 5/8-inch meter would increase by $8,250, from $5,250 to $13,500. Meanwhile, the fee for a new sewer connection served by a meter of the same size would drop by $8,250, from $22,750 to $14,500.

Yet the total cost for new customers seeking both types of connections would remain $28,000. Therefore, the significant increase in the water availability fee shouldn’t hinder future development, Dalton said.

Despite the proposed availability fees being closer to equal, the sewer fee must be higher because it costs more to treat sewage than raw water, he said. Based on environmental laws, wastewater must become clean enough to re-enter the Shenandoah River and eventually the Chesapeake Bay, he added.

Availability fees would increase based on meter size, all the way up to a six-inch meter. Larger meters are used for larger amounts of flow, such as might be needed by industries, whereas smaller meters are used for smaller amounts of flow, such as those typically needed by homes.

The proposed rates and availability fees are for customers and properties in Berryville and any areas that the town eventually might seek to annex. Rates for customers and properties elsewhere would be 25% higher.

Tonight’s meeting will be held in the large meeting room on the second floor of the Berryville-Clarke County Government Center on Chalmers Court. After the meeting, the council will analyze the comments heard, determine any changes that should be made to the proposed charges and then schedule a public hearing on a final proposal.

The new rates are targeted to be imposed on Nov. 22.

— Contact Mickey Powell at mpowell@winchesterstar.com

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