Due to rate equalizations recently passed by the Lebanon City Council, which took effect Monday, most city water and sewer customers should not see any rate increases for five to seven years, according to Lebanon Finance Commissioner Robert Springer.
Back in January 2014, the city council passed two rate increases for water and sewer customers. The first one, for 4 percent, went into effect last July 1. But the second one - for 3 percent - won't go into effect at all, thanks to the rate revisions passed earlier this month.
"The council rescinded that one," Springer said in an interview Monday. The rescission was part of a package to equalize water and sewer rates and bring them up to date.
Sewer hiked vs. water
"Lebanon is the only city in the area which has been charging the same rate per gallon for sewer as it does for water," Springer added. "And it costs more to provide sewer service than it does water."
But now, the newly passed structure increases the rates for sewer compared to water, although not by much. Research in several other cities revealed that they charge anywhere from 25 to 50 percent more for sewer than for water.
Last year, Springer pointed out that the city water system was $200,000 in the black, operating profitably, but the sewer service was running a deficit at about $100,000 in the red.
"It isn't right for water to subsidize sewer," he said. "Both services should pay for themselves."
'Phasing out' volume discounts
The changes approved by the city council also include starting to eliminate the volume discount approach to water and sewer charges.
In the past, the more water a household or business used, the cheaper the rate became.
Under the old rate structure, low-volume users - like retirees with only one bathroom and only one or two people in the house - would pay about seven-tenths of a cent per gallon for water.
But high-volume users who, for example, have several baths and a large family using lots of water for bathing, laundry and dishwashing would only pay about half that much per gallon of water.
"This is a huge win for 80 to 85 percent of the residents of Lebanon," Springer said. "It's just not fair for the retiree to subsidize Walmart and Publix, which is what the old system did."
Mayor Philip Craighead agreed, saying, "This is a change of philosophy. It equalizes the rates and still allows us to be attractive to builders and industries."
With the new rates, the price per gallon of water will stay the same at 69 hundredths of a cent per gallon for low-volume users, and go to 72 and 73 hundredths of a cent for higher-volume users. The minimum bill will remain $10.37 per month.
Overall, commercial rates will go up slightly, with the minimum commercial bill rising from $10.37 to $10.73. Some of the actual rates per gallon will rise by small amounts, and other will be a little bit lower.
Rates outside the city will see similar shifts, with minimum residential bills staying at $15.55 per month and minimum commercial bills increasing from $15.55 to $16.07 per month.
Sewer changes add tap-on fee
Sewer rates will be affected in a similar way, but the actual rates will be increased slightly, with minimum bills increasing from $10.37 to $10.55 for residential customers and from $10.37 to $10.84 for commercial customers inside the city.
The new regulations also established a tap-on fee for sewer-only customers. That fee will be a one-time charge of $75 for residential, $125 for commercial, and $260 for industrial customers.
Also, there will no longer be a cap on total sewer charges except in the summer months of May, June, July and August, when the cap will be $75. The cap reflects residents watering gardens and lawns in those months. "That water doesn't go into the sewer system," Springer explained.
Overall, there will be no major changes for about 80 percent of the city's water and sewer customers, Springer summarized - except they will have no rate increases for several years.
Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at email@example.com.