Rockwood looking at 15% hike in water rates

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Officials also studying higher sewer costs in this morning’s session

By Cindy Simpson

The proposed Rockwood Water, Sewer and Gas Board water and sewer rate increases are higher than first projected earlier this month.

Rockwood Water, Sewer and Gas Board will convene in a special-called meeting at 10 a.m. today, Monday, in Rockwood City Hall to consider a resolution recommending rate increases of 15 percent for water and 22.5 percent for sewer.

Both increases, if approved, will become effective Feb. 1.

A resolution to amend the utilities’ 2010-11 budget will also be discussed.

Rockwood Mayor James Watts said last week he thought the increase in water costs would be somewhere between 10-12 percent.

“We went back in and did some adjusting ... and felt like to be safe we had to go with the 15 percent,” Watts said. “Hopefully, doing 15 percent, we won’t have to review this rate increase over the next five years.”

Costs for sewer services will increase because those rates are based on 150 percent of water usage.

“On a minimum bill, it will increase it about $3.20 roughly,” Watts said.

The minimum bill for water and sewer is $21.33 and would go to $24.53, the mayor said.

The utilities are implementing cuts through staff attrition. There are no plans to hire an assistant manager, Watts said, and two other positions may be vacated in the future.

Immediately following today’s water board session, Rockwood City Council will convene to vote on the resolutions.

The utilities’ water department has operated with a deficit for some time, borrowing funds from gas operations to remain solvent.

Those gas loans have proven to be illegal, as Rockwood officials found out earlier this year. The state is requiring the water operations to reimburse the estimated $1.3 million in borrowed funds and to adjust rates and cut expenditures in the water and sewer departments to make them self-sufficient.

Watts, Rockwood City Attorney Elmer Rich, Rockwood City Recorder Jim Hines and utilities’ interim General Manager Ron Berry visited earlier this month with Dennis Dycus, director of the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury’s Municipal Audit.

Officials hoped for more time to pay back the interdepartmental loans, but the requirement to pay them back with interest in five years remains.

In a letter addressed to City Council members, Watts said Dycus advised the officials to raise revenues and cut expenses to make the utilities solvent.

The letter also said that Dycus recommended the reforming of a utility board separate from the council.

Watts said he wants to wait until everything has settled down before considering establishing a new board.