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Jenkins expected to raise rates




Residents of Jenkins could be faced with an increase in garbage bills as well as changes in the billing structure of their water bills when the new fiscal year begins in July. The Jenkins City Council was presented with a restructured billing system for water customers and a request for a raise in garbage rates by the Utilities Commission at the May council meeting.

Utilities Chair Ked Sanders told the council the water company has been losing money for several years and lost over $100,000 last year, mainly from leaks in old water lines. The city has embarked on an ambitious program to repair and replace old water lines to eliminate the leaks. Mayor Charles Dixon told the council that his goal was no leaks, although he admitted that is unlikely. Dixon said the work is for the present and the future of Jenkins as well.

Sanders said the adjustment in water rates will not have much effect on average low-end water users, with the rates mostly affecting homes and businesses that use over 3,000 gallons per month. However, he told the council the water department must cover its financial losses and spending.

“It’s been a long time since there has been a significant increase in rates,” said Sanders. “The high-end users will pay more, but rates will be very favorable to people on fixed incomes.”

The rate structure remains the same as in the past for the first 1,000 gallons per month at $10. It will cost $3 for each additional 1,000 gallons up to 8,000 gallons and $6 for each 1,000 gallons over 8,000 gallons per month.

Sanders also told the council the sewer plant will require several upgrades to improve efficiency and stay in compliance with state laws. He said a violation of state or federal laws could cost the city a good deal more than the upgrade.

Council member Carol Anne Litts, who also owns a business in Jenkins, asked Sanders about a billing error on the water bill for her place of business. Litts said that for years, she has been billed for 1,000 gallons of water per month but two months ago, she received a bill for 10,000 gallons. She said that after checking with the water department, it turned out to be a clerical error of adding an extra zero. However, Litts said her last month bill was for 2,000 gallons and asked why, if she didn’t use any more water, had her bill gone up. She said she had gone ahead and paid the bill, but was curious as to the discrepancy.

Sanders and Water Department Superintendent Bo Hopkins told Litts that water meters only read in units of 1,000 gallons for billing purposes and that if a customer uses more than 1,000 gallons but less than 2,000 gallons, he may be billed for 1,000 gallons for several months and then receive a bill for 2,000 gallons. Hopkins said the meter is simply making an adjustment to catch up on the usage.

“The meters catch up from month to month,” said Hopkins. “It rolls over each month and it may have just caught up.”

“The customer pays per 1,000 gallons,” added Sanders. “After a while there is a catch up.”

Litts also had questions for Sanders when he presented the Utilities Commission’s recommendation to increase sanitation bills. The Utilities Commission proposed to increase garbage collection fees to $13 a month for residential users. Sanders told the council that commercial rates are very confusing and it will take a while for the commission to untangle them before making a recommendation on raising fees for business users.

“You are proposing to raise rates on the people who actually pay their bills,” said Litts. “You’re being punished for paying your bill. You’re paying for those who don’t pay. This year’s budget is balanced to the penny. With a balanced budget, how do you respond if we increase the sanitation bill when the budget is already balanced?”

Sanders replied that primarily due to the large increases in fuel prices, everything associated with hauling garbage has gone up. He said the sanitation department loses approximately $20,000 per year. Mayor Dixon added that it cost the city $169 each time it filled the garbage truck up with gas the previous week and that the truck averages three fill-ups each week. Hopkins added that it costs $40 per ton to dump garbage, in addition to the cost of hauling it to the landfill. He said that one cubic yard in a Dumpster usually averages weighing one ton.

Litts said while she understands the need herself, she wonders if other citizens will be as understanding. She said many people in Jenkins who adopted blue bag recycling had done so with the belief that it would prevent an increase in sanitation fees.

“People thought that if they participated in recycling there would be no need for a raise,” said Litts. “Jenkins is basically a retirement community. The seniors already struggle with high costs and high fuel prices.”

Sanders told Litts that dumping fees have also increased due to higher prices across the board, but said if the city was paying for the recyclables, the rate increase would probably be between 15 and 20 percent more.

The council will take the proposals for rate increases home for further study and will make a decision at the June meeting.

Council member Linda Baldwin told Sanders that some business users who have Dumpsters are being billed for a three-day-per-week pick-up cycle but are having their Dumpsters emptied every day. Baldwin said the city is basically giving away two free days a week. Sanders replied that the difference in Dumpster size and pick-up is part of the confusion over business rates and the commission hopes to sort it out soon.

Council member Rebecca Terrill added while she understands the water department needs to operate on a balanced budget, she, too, had problems with an increase in sanitation fees. She said that raises in both services could pose a difficulty for some citizens. Both Terrill and Litts said they had not been aware that water meters could “catch up” from month to month and said they doubted that many water customers are aware of it either.

City Attorney Randall Tackett told the council he wanted to correct a mistaken impression that many seemed to have on paying sanitation bills. Tackett said it is not true that people who pay their bills are being punished, rather they are doing what is right. He said if the city collected every penny of every bill, there would still be a need for rate increases due to general cost increases.

“People should not feel that they are being punished,” said Tackett. “The city is providing good services.”

“I understand,” replied Litts. “But Joe Q. Average Citizen sees people who don’t pay their bills. Two months ago I got copies of water bills and occupational licenses. I was appalled at the unpaid bills.”

Tackett said there really weren’t that many who don’t pay and the city has been very aggressive about seeking payment for unpaid bills. “I want to break that theory.”

“If this made for a raise for the city employees, there would be no complaints,” said Litts. “Will the employees see any raises?”

Ked Sanders told Litts that any raises for employees would be up to the council and mayor but employee raises were on the council’s May agenda. However, later in the meeting, Mayor Dixon asked that discussion on employee raises be tabled until the council makes a decision on rate increases and other fiscal matters and the 2008-2009 budget is approved.

Dixon said the city will have to borrow some money for the upgrade of water and sewer lines and the rate increases on water and sewer services will be necessary to pay the loans. City Engineer Paul Nesbitt added that funders will examine rate structures to make certain the city can service the loans before funding the work.


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