In an announcement released Monday, the Anniston Water Works and Sewer Board said a delayed rise of 6 percent in water rates will take effect April 1 in an effort to bring in $1.27 million for the board next year.
Rodney Owens, the assistant general manager with Anniston Water Works Board, said a typical household in Anniston will see an increase of about $2.50 on their monthly bill.
“The average water and sewer customer uses 700 cubic feet, which is just over 5,000 gallons of water,” per month, Owens said. “On average right now, they pay $37.50 on their water and sewer bill and after the rate increase they’ll pay $39.80.”
Minimum monthly bills will see an increase from $11.66 to $12.36, Owens said.
Some of Anniston’s biggest water customers are other local water authorities, including Weaver, Jacksonville and Calhoun and Cleburne Counties. Those rates will apply to those water boards as well, but the higher Anniston fees are unlikely to have a domino effect on those areas.
“We don’t anticipate anything immediately,” said Michael Rinker, office manager for Jacksonville’s Water Works, Gas and Sewer Board. “Any changes would be up to the board, but right now we don’t see rates being affected.”
Rinker said Jacksonville pays Anniston a monthly fee of less than $6,400 – a figure which will increase by a couple hundred dollars per month starting in April – for water, but most of Jacksonville’s supply currently comes from springs in the city.
Even less of an impact will be felt in Weaver, which Mayor Wayne Willis said only uses Anniston water in emergency situations, and pays a fat flee to tap into Anniston’s reserve.
Kim Cauthen, manager of Cleburne County Water Authority, said the board only heard about Anniston’s rate increase on Monday and wasn’t sure what changes it would bring to its own rate structure. Cauthen said unlike Jacksonville and Weaver, Cleburne County uses Anniston as its main water supply.
Attempts to reach officials with Calhoun County’s Water Authority on Monday were unsuccessful.
Perhaps the biggest effect however, will be for larger commercial and business customers in the city. Owens said a medium-size business such as a large restaurant pays on average $479 a month for water, which would increase about $25 starting in April.
Chris Davis, president of Nature’s Art Landscaping in Anniston, said the water rate increase by itself – he estimates his bills to go up by about $20 for summer months – doesn’t drastically affect business, but rate increases across the board including gas and garbage removals are making it harder for companies to turn a profit.
“Anything that cuts into your profit margin is a problem,” Davis said. “We’re probably going to have to increase our prices, and we haven’t done that in about five years.”
The rate increase, part of a five-year plan approved by the board in 2008, has been delayed two years, but Owens said the Water Authority can no longer push off the rate hikes as it seeks to update its facilities and distribution. Owens said 60 percent of the revenue generated from the rate raise will go toward replacing underground pipes, some of which are more than 100 years old.
“We’re in the business of public health, and public health can’t wait,” Owens said.
Even with the rate increase, Peiffer Brandt, chief operating officer with Raftelis Financial Consulting, who helped develop Anniston’s water rate structure, said Anniston’s fee remains relatively low compared to much of the southeast and the country.
“Anniston is blessed with a good water source,” Brandt said of Coldwater Spring. “There’s a lot of factors that go into water rates, but that’s the main reason Anniston’s rates have remained favorable despite increase.”
Brandt said while public perception of water rates tends to oversimplify the belief that low rates mean an effective system is in place, lots of factors contribute to the cost of water that are sometimes beyond the local authority’s control. In some cases, low rates may also mean the provider is kicking the can down the road while ignoring system improvements.
“Anniston isn’t ignoring that they need capital improvements,” Brandt said. “But other factors have helped them keep the rates favorable despite increase.”
Staff Writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.