The Amherst County Service Authority’s board of directors has voted to advertise for public hearing proposed water and sewer rate increases that would take effect in 2022.
The rates advertised include a 5% increase for water and a 6% increase to sewer rates. The basic sewer service charge also is set to go up $1.
The public hearing is planned for the board of supervisors’ meeting at 7 p.m. Nov. 16. Board member Tom Martin said during an Oct. 5 meeting the advertised rates are the maximum considered and can be lowered.
Another option would have the rates at a 3.75% increase for water and a 4.75% hike for sewer. The ACSA currently serves 6,398 water and sewer accounts, according to Bob Hopkins, executive director.
Board member David Pugh said he prefers the lower rates, adding customers could use a “little bit of a break.”
“A lot of people are on fixed incomes in our county,” Pugh said.
Board members said they also could find a middle ground between the two options. Martin said under the first option that is centered on the lesser rate increases, his concern is the ACSA would remain stagnant and not grow the customer base, which would be detrimental in the long run.
The ACSA customer base needs to grow so higher rate increases won’t be necessary down the road, Martin said.
Pugh, who also is an ACSA customer, said he recently received a water bill of $120 for a family of four he felt was “pretty steep.”
“We’ve got to be cognizant of the people it will affect,” Pugh said.
The authority did not implement any rate adjustments from 2011 to 2013 due to the Great Recession, which caused pressure to “catch up” with a double-digit increase in 2014, according to a report to the ACSA board Oct. 5.
The ACSA must withstand unexpected or emergency need situations requiring drawing from reserves more than expected while maintaining solvency, the report states. A recent example is between 2018 and 2019 the authority had to draw from reserves in excess of $570,000 to address the James River Bank Stabilization Project, an ongoing effort to protect a majority utility line from land erosion on the river bank, which came in above initial estimates provided by the Army Corps of Engineers.
In the past few years, the authority enacted a 6.60% water rate hike and a 7.75% uptick in sewer in 2019, a 7.40% water increase and 8.50% sewer hike in 2020 and this year a 5.56% increase for water and 6.56% jump in sewer.
The current water rate is $5.65 per 100 cubic foot; the sewer rate for the same amount is $8.46.
The ACSA’s average monthly residential water bill in 2020 was $47.74 and the average monthly residential wastewater bill that same year was $55.54.
“ACSA has had to impose higher rates adjustments than we would have liked on our customers for several years now to raise funds for major cost capital projects imposed on ACSA by state regulations,” Hopkins said after the meeting.
Hopkins said inflation is running at about 4% for the authority and the board is considering future funding of system expansions that will increase customers and revenue.
“The management of rates to maintain affordability for customers and also ensure revenues for everything in ACSA’s mission, including system expansions, is a tightrope which is very difficult to walk,” Hopkins said.
Rate adjustments, whichever are decided, become effective Jan. 1.