BY LEANN DILBECK –
The Mena City Council will be considering a recommendation from the Mena Water Utilities Commission (MWU) to increase water rates during their May meeting.
Mena Water Utility Manager Charles Pitman said that the utility consulted with Communities Unlimited (CU) regarding its current water rates. CU confirmed that the utility is not charging enough to cover its costs. Pitman explained, “There are several reasons. The most obvious are that costs have risen while the overall amount of water that we sell annually has dropped. Additionally, there have been regulatory changes that resulted in different, and more expensive, chemicals necessary to treat to Federal Safe Drinking Water Standards.”
Communities Unlimited (CU) had several recommendations. First there are two parts to a water bill. There is a base charge that is meant to cover the fixed costs. Then, there are the charges for the water used. Pitman continued, “Some of our customers were receiving 1,000 gallons in their base charge so essentially, we were giving away water to those customers. CU recommended that we no longer include any minimum water and charge for water used. Therefore, base charges will stay the same but some customers will see an increase in their bills due to being charged for all of their water.”
MWU also utilizes a decreasing tiered rate structure so that the more water a customer is billed for, the less it costs per thousand gallons. Pitman explained that MWU has 3 tiers. CU recommended removing the tiers and charging all customers the same amount per thousand gallons of water. “MWU believes that a decreasing tier system is beneficial to the customers we serve.”
However, having 3 tiers makes it difficult to verify that water is being sold at a rate that is covering the cost to treat and deliver the water to customers. Therefore, the rate schedule recommended is to be changed to 2 tiers. The cost of water will go from $3.13 for the first 5,000 gallons, $2.94 for the next 7,000 gallons, and $2.60 for everything over 12,100 gallons to $3.20 for the first 10,000 gallons and $2.80 for water over 10,100 gallons. Pitman explained that this will affect the average household (5,500 gallons per month) by less than $5. Larger users, such as customers outside of town with chicken houses that use 50,000 gallons of water can expect approximately $10 additionally each month. MWU’s largest user should expect to see an increase each month of less than $100.
The MWU Commission approved the recommendation during their meeting Monday, April 24, but it will be necessary for the Mena City Council to approve the increase during their regular monthly meeting on May 9. If approved, customers will see the increase beginning in their July bills.