WINSTON COUNTY - The price of city water will increase for residents in multiple towns in Winston County in the coming months.
The Upper Bear Creek Water Authority is raising the rate it charges the Haleyville Water Works and Sewer Board by ten cents per 1,000 gallons of water starting in April, and this additional cost will be passed on to Haleyville customers and to the towns of Lynn and Double Springs, which purchase water from Haleyville WWSB.
Haleyville WWSB has notified these towns that it will be increasing its wholesale water price by ten cents starting in April because of the the Upper Bear Creek increase.
The Haleyville WWSB voted to approve a six-percent rate increase for its local customers’ water use at its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 25. This increase also goes into effect in April.
The ten-cent increase from Upper Bear Creek equates to a 5.88 percent rise in the price of water, Haleyville WWSB General Manager Lane Bates said early in the discussion of the rate increase at the board meeting.
Raising customer rates by an additional .12 percent for a total increase of six percent was recommended to the board by Mayor Ken Sunseri, who said he had previously discussed how much the board would need to raise rates with Bates and City Engineer Calvin Cassady.
Sunseri cited rising costs on all purchases, including chemicals and testing, as a reason to raise customers’ rates slightly more than Upper Bear Creek is raising rates.
“That will give us enough money to pay the additional $57,000-$60,000 in increased water rates and also give us enough money to operate on with all these additional costs we have,” Sunseri said.
Elaborating on those costs, Cassady informed the board that the price of regularly purchased materials, such as pipes and fittings, has risen by 20-30 percent and has even doubled in some cases. He also mentioned rising fuel prices.
“We are having to absorb all that,” Cassady said.
Bates provided the WWSB members with examples of the dollar amounts by which customers’ bills would increase if the rates were raised by different percentages.
He said that a bill for 2,000 gallons a month— the minimum amount of water a customer must pay for in order to have water service—costs $30.72 at current rates and would rise by $1.84 to $32.56 after a six-percent increase in rates.
Also in the case of a six-percent increase, customers who use 8,000 gallons a month would see their bills rise from $44.42 to $47.09, an increase of $2.67.
Bates pointed out that these bill totals include only water use, not sewer service or taxes.
Customers’ sewer rates are dependent on the water rate because the cost for sewer service is set at 60 percent of a customer’s water use charge. The monthly sewer service charge thus rises as customers use more water. An increase in the price of water will mean a higher sewer charge as well.
For that reason, Bates said, customers with sewer service can expect to see their bills increase by a little more than the amounts stated above.
Using the example of a bill that will increase by $2.75 for water, he said, “You add sewer on there, it may go up (by) $3.”
Bates went on to say that the board is in a good financial position now, despite inflation and without raising rates last year, because it had raised rates by three percent every year for five years before that. He said he thought that to keep pace with its projects and to off-set the increase from Upper Bear Creek and the increases in other costs, the board should raise its rate a little.
WWSB Member Ralph Trallo remarked that all products and commodities are increasing in price. “You can’t continue to absorb it,” he concluded.
Sunseri then noted that the board also has loans to repay. “We’ve got to show that we have the ability to repay these things,” he said, “so that’s the reason why I’m making the recommendation that we go up six percent.”
It is important for the board to be able to demonstrate its ability to pay its debts now, in particular, because it is applying for a new Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) loan that will allow it to make several improvements to Haleyville’s water works.
Future articles in the Alabamian will report on those improvement projects and other business from the January board meeting.
At that meeting, Haleyville City Council Member and WWSB Member Brian Berry made the motion to approve the six-percent rate increase, and Glenn Roberts seconded it. All board members except Bobby Taylor voted in favor of the increase.
“I disagree with it,” Taylor told the board. “I think it’s too much. We didn’t talk about commercial rates or anything else. We’re just going to go up over one quick meeting and not think about the numbers any closer. My vote’s no.”
The motion passed four to one.
Asked later about commercial rates, Bates said that he had not provided examples of the dollar amount by which the bill of a commercial customer in particular would rise because commercial rates are the same as residential rates. They will also increase by six percent.
Like Haleyville, Lynn will pass on the additional cost to residents, according to Town Clerk Marcia Manasco.
Water Department Clerk Kris Gray said customers’ costs would rise from $7.08 to $7.18 for every 1,000 gallons of water used, an increase of ten cents, the same amount by which Upper Bear Creek is increasing the town's rate.
Lynn residents will see the increase on their bills on May 1. The May bills will show charges for water used in March, information that is read from water meters on April 1.
Gray explained that after the readings on the first of the month, each amount has to be input manually for billing purposes before statements can be mailed, which is why March usage, read from meters on April 1, shows up on the May bills.
In Double Springs, the Water and Sewer Board is still considering the matter. Mayor Elmo Robinson said that the board discussed the rate increase on the water it purchases from Haleyville at its monthly meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 25, and will conduct a cost analysis before deciding whether or not to pass the additional cost on to its customers.
Robinson noted that while the board has so far been able to absorb some of the costs of rising prices without passing them on, it might not be able to do so in this case.
While all of Lynn’s water comes from Haleyville WWSB, Double Springs purchases the majority of its water from Arley Water Works, according to the 2020 “Annual Drinking Water Quality Report” for Double Springs, which was published in the June 23, 2021, edition of the Alabamian.
customers to see
increase in bills
Arley Water Works is not increasing the rates it charges Double Springs for water, according to Tammie Farley, Arley town clerk.
However, residents of Arley will see their water rates rise on April 1—by three percent. This increase, Farley said, was needed because of the town's bond.
Town of Bear Creek to absorb price
Meanwhile, in Marion County, Bear Creek will not pass the increase from Upper Bear Creek on to its customers.
“We're going to be absorbing this increase,” Mayor Rob Taylor said. “We may have to reevaluate later on, but at this time, we will not be increasing customers’ rates.”
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.