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By Carmen Ensinger
After much discussion at the Nov. 3 Winchester City Council meeting, council members decided to postpone passage of a water rate increase until the spring.
City Attorney John Paul Coonrod had a resolution drawn up for a $1.40 flat rate increase that would take effect on the Jan. 1, payable on the Feb. bill, but after council members began discussing the prices of everything increase, from natural gas, to gasoline, to groceries, they felt it would be too much of a burden to place on the less-fortunate citizens on Winchester who are barely getting by now.
“I think we need to revisit the water rates – I’m not sure we want to go up $1.40 with all of the other increases occurring right now,” Alderman Lawrence Coultas said. “I think going up that much is going to stretch out some people’s utility bills to the max, especially with natural gas supposed to be going up again.”
Coultas said he and Alderman Ron Bell had discussed the matter and there are more people under the poverty level in Winchester than they had thought.
“Maybe the rate is a little higher than we need to be,” Coultas said, referring to the $1.40 increase. “I think we need a little increase, but it doesn’t need to be maybe that high given our high rate of poverty. It’s not going to do us any good if people can’t pay it.”
Coultas was the one who proposed the original plan at the Oct. meeting. This plan reduced the base rate for the first 1,000 gallons from $14.30 to $14.00, thereby actually reducing the water rate for those water customers who do not use much water, such as the elderly.
From there, instead of a graduated decrease in the rate for the amount of water used after the first 1,000 gallons, there would be a standard rate of $1.40 per 100 gallons used. This option would realize an additional $50,000 a year for the city.
To give an idea of how much of an increase this would be, a 2,000 gallon a month user would see an increase of $2.20 a month. A 3,000 gallon a month user $4.70; 4,000 gallons, $7.20; 5,000, $12,20; 6,000, $17.80; 7,000, $23,10 and 8,000 gallons, $29.70. For the user that uses the minimum of 1,000 gallons, their bill will decrease by 30 cents to $14.00.
Coultas said maybe the city should step back and see how much of an increase they really need.
“If we know how much revenue we need, we can work backwards to know how much to increase water rates to generate that amount – a reasonable amount that doesn’t hurt people,” he said. “I used $1.20 across the board and it could generate between $30,000 to $40,000.”
Alderman Terry Gregory suggested perhaps the city could institute a graduate increase.
“Maybe we could raise it .60 or .70 cents this year and then the same amount next year,” she said. “That way it is not as big a shock all at once. Or, better yet, why don’t we just wait until spring and see how things go this winter with the gas prices and let them get through that before we hit them with this.”
Coultas said it really wouldn’t be a life-or-death situation if the city held off three or four months before implementing the increase.
“We are not going to be losing out on a huge chunk of money by delaying it,” he said. “Maybe $8-10,000. I want to look at how much we need to generate but I still think the rate should be the same all the way through.”