Butler County Times Gazette
  • Augusta discusses water rate increases

  • For almost two years, Augusta residents have been told by the administration and governing body the one-cent sales tax would only cover most of the cost of a new waterline to El Dorado.
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  • For almost two years, Augusta residents have been told by the administration and governing body the one-cent sales tax would only cover most of the cost of a new waterline to El Dorado.
    Monday night, the City Council held a work session to decide how much to raise rates and what method should be used to raise them to cover the almost $300,000 the city expects to need to make up the difference in the annual cost of the waterline and the amount the sales tax raises.
    No one had a problem with raising the rates, but the discussion centered around the most equitable way to do it.
    “I can throw a million options at you to cover the gap in funding,” City Manager Josh Shaw said. “ You have to decide which method is the best for the residents.”
    Shaw presented three clear options Monday night. One included a scenario where all of the money was accumulated by raising the base water rate for every customer.
    The benefits of that method include guaranteed stability of the revenue.
    The second method included only increasing the rate per thousand gallons. That method could work but if people used less water for any reason, the necessary revenue would be in jeopardy.
    The first method hits low-end users harder because they have a lower bill so several dollars a month would be a large percentage of their current bill. The second method puts most of the pressure on high volume users.
    The governing body was trying to keep the cost lower for individual users while maintaining a business friendly water rate in order to keep jobs in Augusta.
    When the council began exploring option three – a combination of a base increase and rate increase – the idea of trying to protect older people became complicated.
    City Clerk Erica Jones pointed out of the dozen or so high-volume customers, several of them are nursing homes or mobile home parks that are billed as one entity. Those costs would be pushed down to individual users as well. Also, another high volume customer is the school district, which would also pass the cost along to homeowners in its next budget.
    After a great deal of discussion, Shaw was asked to draw up a plan that would allow for a small increase in the base water bill and an increase in the rate per thousand.
    Some of the concern on the council included comments on social media about elevated utility and tax rates in Augusta compared to surrounding cities.
    According to a recent REAP study, Augusta was among the lowest water rates for base customers and those who use 5,000, 10,000 or even 20,000 gallons per month.
    Page 2 of 2 - The proposed increases will put Augusta more in the middle of the pack with the regional study. However, many of the other cities surveyed are also currently considering water rate increases that would keep them more expensive than Augusta.
     
    Kent Bush can be reached at kbush@butlercountytimesgazette.com.
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