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Water-sewer rates may increase

SALISBURY — Since 2005, Salisbury has raised water-sewer rates by 40 percent, Councilman William “Pete” Kennedy said.
Although next year’s proposed 2.86-percent rate increase would be the smallest in eight years, Kennedy said he still doesn’t like it.
“Show us how we can not increase water-sewer rates next year,” he asked staff at a city budget retreat Thursday.
That would be very difficult, City Manager David Treme said.
Water usage has fallen, and the city has had to increase rates as big customers left, such as textiles, Treme said.
“We are dangerously close to the edge in terms of having the dollars we need to be responsible with our utilities,” he said.
Salisbury-Rowan Utilities eliminated two fulltime positions this year, and additional personnel cuts would hinder the utilities’ ability to meet compliance standards, Director Jim Behmer said.
The rate increase would send the average water bill from $72 per month to $74, he said.
The utility’s expenses are in line with comparable cities, Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell said.
Water-sewer revenue fell this year when the city changed the way it fines users who pay their bill late. Late fees went from $40,000 per month to $10,000 per month, Behmer said.
“You could say we reduced water rates last year for people who like to pay late,” Councilman Brian Miller said.
The change was made so the late fee policy for Fibrant, the city’s new broadband service, would match that of private competitors, city staff said. Salisbury-Rowan Utilities and Fibrant must have the same late fee policy because they are billed together.
Water-sewer rates should level off in 2014, when the city retires some of the debt, Miller said. Capital expenses also should decrease, as infrastructure for the system is complete and only at 34 percent of capacity.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.

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