SUD: Rate Increase; Marion County Commissioner Needed
by Leslie Lytle, Messenger Staff Writer
After long debate at the Nov. 15 meeting, the Sewanee Utility District Board of Commissioners passed a 2023 budget calling for a rate increase to pay for employee raises and rising chemical, electricity, and materials costs. The board took the impact on elderly and low-income customers into careful consideration when configuring the rate increases. The volumetric water and sewer charge and the base rates will all increase, but by different amounts.
The base rate for water service will increase by 1.6 percent and for sewer service by 1.3 percent, a small 25–50 cents per month increase. The volumetric charge for water and sewer will both increase 5 percent. “Our customers who use less water are usually elderly and lower-income people,” said SUD manager Ben Beavers. “The increase in the volumetric rate doesn’t have as much effect as the increase in the base rate.” Commissioner Doug Cameron concurred, noting there was “a choice in water use.”
Beavers initially proposed a barebones break-even budget with only a 2.3 percent volumetric sewer rate increase. SUD President Charlie Smith expressed concern. “I’m uneasy about shooting that tight,” Smith said. “Can we increase the padding?” Beavers acknowledge he had done budgets with a narrower margin, but he had “more confidence” in being able to match revenue and expense. He said paying employees a fair wage and rising costs were the big “drivers” for the 2023 budget, citing the increased cost of gas and electricity, chemicals (up 8 percent), and PVC pipe. “There are too many unknowns,” insisted commissioner Donnie McBee. Addressing the boards concerns, Beavers suggested increasing the sewer volumetric charge to 5 percent instead of the minimal 2.3 percent increase initially proposed. In support of Beavers’ recommendation, Smith said, “Our more affluent clientele are connected to sewer.”
The board also considered implementing a $10 per month grinder pump fee for grinder pump customers. Grinder pumps typically lasted 8-12 years, and replacement costs $4,000, compared to $2,600 a few years ago, Beavers said. The board decided to defer any additional fee increases to a year when inflation did not so dramatically impact the budget. Nationally, water utility rates were increasing 5 percent on the average, according to Smith.
Taking up the upcoming commissioner election, Smith said three individuals had expressed interest. Marion County Commissioner Ronnie Hoosier is term limited and cannot pursue reelection. Prospective candidates must be a SUD customer and must reside in Marion County. Commissioners play an active role in making decisions about the community water supply and wastewater treatment. They receive a $50 monthly stipend, serve a four-year term, and are expected to attend monthly meetings and to participate in commissioner training. Individuals wishing to declare their candidacy should contact Beavers at the SUD office or a SUD commissioner. Those declaring their candidacy before the Dec. 13 board meeting will not be required to submit a nominating petition.
The SUD Board is considering instituting a voting-by-phone option and will revisit the topic in December.