Buncombe County Commission

Flash-flood warning! Water prices will soon rise in the city and county, if the Regional Water Authority of Asheville, Buncombe and Henderson has its way.

The Water Authority’s proposed $19 million budget for the coming fiscal year calls for a 9 percent increase in water rates, according to Asheville City Assistant Manager Doug Spell.

He explained the proposed budget to Buncombe County Commissioners on June 16. Spell served as interim water resources director from last September to this March.

A household wholse monthly bill now averages $19.42 would pay about $1.60 more per month due to the rake hike, , said Spell. (Water bills are sent out every other month, so the billed amounts would double those figures.) Businesses whose monthly bill averages $486 per month would see a $40 increase, he said.

The Water Authority also plans to almost double its tap fees — the one-time charge to new customers tapping into the system. Currently, new residences must pay $525, but under the new rates, they would pay $953. An accompanying “development” fee would also double, from $100 to $200.

The water-rate increase would net the authority about $1.6 more than last year. The tap-fee hike would generate nearly $400,000 more than last year.

Tap fees haven’t been increased in 10 years, said Spell. What’s more, the Authority currently loses money each time it makes a tap and installs a meter, he said. The new fees should help it break even.

The Authority also plans to double its charge for connecting, reconnecting or transferring a customer’s service — from $10 to $20.

The Authority sets the budget and policy for the city’s Water Resources Department, which provides water to about 100,000 customers. Revenues cover all the operating costs. The 7.5 percent left over is divided between the city and county general operating funds (the county gets 2.5 percent and the city gets 5 percent).

Three Buncombe residents spoke out against the fee increases. Mike Morgan charged that the Authority is trying to transfer to its customers the losses resulting from the shutdown of the Gerber Products, Co. plant in Skyland. Gerber’s annual water bill totalled $400,000, said Spell. He and Board of Commissioners Chair Tom Sobol both denied Morgan’s charge. Sobol is a also member of the Water Authority board.

Jerry Rice urged commissioners to take a close look at the Authority’s budget. He complimented them for rolling back the county’s property-tax rate, and asked that they do the same when it comes to water.

Cynthia Edmonds also spoke out against the fee increases, reminding commissioners of the most recent fee hike in 1997. She called for fundamental changes in the Authority. Sobol called her points valid and assured her that her ideas were “not falling on deaf ears.”

The Authority has already approved its budget. But under the terms of the Water Agreement, the city and county must also approve it by June 30. Commissioners have put the budget on their June 23 agenda.

@commishsubhead:Just say, “Charge it”

County residents can now pay their real-estate and personal-property taxes with a credit card. Instructions for the new payment option will be sent out with property-tax bills. You can also call the county Tax Office for instructions. “It’s one more step in providing better service to our citizens,” said Tax Director Jerome Jones.

Don’t call them officers

Resident Peter Dawes appeared before the commissioners once again to voice his disapproval at Friends For Animals staff for referring to themselves as “officers.”

FFA contracts with the county to enforce its animal-control ordinance. An employee of a private company who has no official law-enforcement training is not an officer, argued Dawes, and should not be able to bring charges against a person that could result in a criminal record. Dawes also called for better public access to FFA’s tax records.

Board appointments

Commissioners made the following board appointments: Commissioner David Gantt to the Community Transportation Advisory Board; Eleanor Starnes to the Farmland Preservation Board; Martha Fullington to the Historic Resources Commission.

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