Leader Blues

Monday, March 30, 2009

TOP STORY >> Modest boost in water rates to pay for lines

Leader staff writer

A 1 percent increase from its main water supplier and $48 million in future infrastructure needs has the Jacksonville Water Department looking at increasing rates by about $4 per year for the next three years.

“We are still working on it and tweaking the proposal to make sure we do the right thing,” explained Mike Simpson, general manager for the city’s water department.

At its meeting last week, the Jacksonville City Council set a public hearing at 7:10 p.m. Thursday, April 16 at city hall to discuss the increase.

After that discussion, the council will have a public hearing on vacating and abandoning an alley between lots one, two and three in block four of the Harpole Addition.

The latest draft, according to Simpson, calls for a 13 percent increase each year for the next three and then an 8 percent increase in the fourth year. “This is just a draft and could change between now and the public hearing,” Simpson cautioned. He said the water commission should be meeting next year to vote on the final proposal.

He said the commission is also looking at setting a new minimum that would save many on set income money. “We have about 2,000 customers who use only about 1,000 gallons a month, but our minimum charge is for 2,000 gallons.”

Simpson said the average Jack-sonville home uses about 6,000 gallons and has a bill of about $36.

Central Arkansas Water, which supplies most of the water for Jacksonville, increased its rates to the city in December by about 1 percent. The department is allowed by city ordinance to pass that increase along to its customers, but there was a slight problem with the ordinance. It still listed the city’s water supplier as North Little Rock Water. North Little Rock and Little Rock merged into CAW in 2001.

“The city attorney felt it was best to update the ordinance before we applied the 1-percent increase to water bills,” Simpson said.

“While this was going on we were in the middle of a rate study focusing on the city’s needs through 2050,” Simpson said. “To provide sufficient water through 2050 we need to add and update our infrastructure system.”

The cost is estimated at $48 million, which includes the city’s share for joining the Lonoke White Public Water Authority to get additional water from Greers Ferry.

“We have to start collecting those funds now,” he said.

Water commissioners feel that the increase, along with some bonds, will allow the department to keep the infrastructure at the needed level.

Simpson said the utility has been covering that 1-percent increase from CAW since the January billing without passing it on to the customers, so if the new rates are approved April 16, it will be reflecting on bills being mailed the next day.

In the second hearing, the city will discuss vacating a small unused alley off First Street, north of Vine Street.