05/01/09 — City not breaking even on water rate

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City not breaking even on water rate

By Catharin Shepard
Published in News on May 1, 2009 1:46 PM

Although city water usage rates could go up by 10 percent, pending approval of the proposed 2009-2010 city budget, Goldsboro citizens would still have one of the lowest water bills of any Wayne County municipality.

Even if rates increase by an average of 95 cents per household in households that use approximately 5,000 gallons of water a month, people utilizing city water would still pay about $5 less than people in Mount Olive and Kinston, $10 less than people in Wayne County water districts and almost $15 less than people who live in Fremont, according to information from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Environmental Finance Center.

The rates are so low, the Goldsboro city water system is operating at a loss, utilities director Karen Brashear said.

"It is sort of creating some financial issues where we don't fully support our system," Mrs. Brashear said.

Current figures prepared by the city show that the water system is operating at about an 80 percent self-sufficiency rate. Water reclamation and sewer systems aren't breaking even, either, Mrs. Brashear said.

Sewer rates for Goldsboro are also comparatively low when contrasted against other Wayne County systems. People in Goldsboro pay an average of $27.87 a month for sewer, while people in Mount Olive pay about $40.04, Fremont citizens pay $57.50 and only Kinston has a lower sewer charge, at $24.10.

The proposed 10 percent increase to water usage rates won't be enough to get the system operating self-sufficiently, which could be a problem.

"(The rate increase) should have theoretically happened longer ago," Mrs. Brashear said.

Last year's drought is partly responsible for the department's revenue shortfall. People responded to requests to conserve water, which lowered their water bills and reduced the amount of money coming in for public utilities, Mrs. Brashear said.

"We're about the only business that begs people not to buy their product," she said.

Goldsboro relies on a surface water system, taking water from the surface of the Neuse River rather than drawing it from the ground, and the surface system requires a more expensive treatment process to make the water potable. Additionally, the water system is 57 years old and several critical pieces of equipment need to be updated.

"Valves need to be replaced, pump motors," Mrs. Brashear said.

The city also plans install a second intake in the Neuse River, one at a lower level than the current line, so the city can still take in water even if the river is low.

"After the drought situation, the city council has focused on water supply issues," she said.

Goldsboro might keep the existing water plant in operation for another 25 years, but it must be periodically updated and refurbished to bring it in line with constantly changing federal guidelines. There's nothing wrong with the existing system, but the technology behind it has been in use since World War II.

"This particular process we have now, it's been tried and true, and it's wonderful, and it does make good water," Mrs. Brashear said.

However, "we're kind of at the point we'll have to put another component online," she added.

The city is moving forward to experiment with newer technology in water treatment options. Goldsboro is part of a pilot program testing a water cleaning system that uses ultraviolet and ceramic membranes to filter water, a process that can remove impurities as small as 20 nanometers, Mrs. Brashear said.

"You're getting almost nothing but H20 out the back of it," she said.

The city will also be bench-testing another water purification system this summer, when the algae blooms are highest, to give the process a thorough shakedown.

"We want to challenge any measure we put in with the most difficult time of year," Mrs. Brashear said.

If the water plant is to continue to operate as the city's primary source of clean drinking water, the improvements are necessary, she said.

"I think we need to be looking to the future if we plan to keep our water plant for 25 years," Mrs. Brashear said.