Water bill increases on April 9 Council agenda

Asheville city seal

A week after Asheville called a press conference to discuss “significant disruption” to its water system, City Council members will consider a package of fees and charges that would increase what residents and businesses pay for water service. Taken together, the adjustments on the docket for Council’s meeting on Tuesday, April 9, would generate nearly $1 million in new annual revenue for water operations and capital improvements.

For single-family residential accounts, the charge per hundred cubic feet of water consumed would increase by 8 cents, from $4.13 to $4.21, while the monthly Capital Improvement Fee would rise 9 cents, from $4.17 to $4.26. The base fee per monthly bill would get a 13-cent boost, from $6.21 to $6.34. In a staff report issued before the meeting, city CFO Barbara Whitehorn estimated the total annual impact of these changes as $6.60 per household.

Monthly stormwater fees will also increase, yielding roughly $304,000 in extra income for the city. Single-family residential properties of less than 2,000 square feet will pay an extra 15 cents per month, up from $3.05 to $3.20. Those between 2,001 and 4,000 square feet will owe 24 more cents (from $4.86 to $5.10), while properties greater than 4,001 square feet will owe 34 more cents (from $6.69 to $7.03). Whitehorn estimated these changes will cost the average household $1.80 per year.

While grading and stormwater permits, water development fees and fire inspections would all get more expensive under the new fee schedule, a handful of decreases are also under consideration. The cost to rent a city-owned event space at 14 Riverside Drive would go down by 25%, while the U.S. Cellular Center Banquet Hall and Thomas Wolfe Auditorium would be available to nonprofits during weekdays at discounted rates.

In other business

Council will take up a conditional zoning proposal and lease agreement with Buncombe County to permit the construction of a new East Asheville Library building at the branch’s current Tunnel Road location. The conditional zoning is necessary because the new single-story construction would cover roughly 15,000 square feet; by code, single-story buildings in Community Business I zoning require special approval to exceed 6,000 square feet.

Asheville would lease the property to Buncombe County for 99 years at $1 annually, with the county taking all responsibility for site improvements and maintenance. At a Nov. 20 meeting of the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners, former interim County Manager George Wood noted that the projected cost of the new library is $5.8 million, roughly $1.3 million more than an initial estimate.

Council members will also consider new standards for small wireless facilities, also known as “microcells,” that could be added to increase network coverage throughout the city. In a report issued before the meeting, staff members said state legislation prohibits cities from adopting all but “aesthetic” regulations on the infrastructure.

Consent agenda

Council’s consent agenda for the meeting contains 11 items, which will be approved as a package unless singled out for separate discussion. Highlights include resolutions to:

  • Authorize a contract for up to $373,230 with Nashville-based Earl Swensson Associates for phase one design of Thomas Wolfe Auditorium renovations. The scope of work covers “programming and conceptual design with various levels of improvements that will be used for budgeting purposes.”
  • Execute a $121,882.08 contract with Sundance Power Systems of Weaverville to install a 64-kilowatt solar array on the canopy of the ART Transit Station. The contract may be amended up to $230,000 for “unforeseen infrastructure improvements” or to expand the capacity and warranty terms of the array.
  • Approve a contract of up to $128,665 with Allison Contractors of Asheville to construct bus shelters, concrete pads and attached sidewalks. Stops to be improved include Tunnel Road and White Pine Drive, Lakeshore Drive at Cherry Lane and State Street at Hanover Street.
  • Amend a contract with Greensboro-based J. Brady Contracting for an additional $3.38 million to complete HVAC and mechanical modernization for the U.S. Cellular Center. A total of $1.875 million in previously unbudgeted funding will come from the U.S. Cellular Center Capital Maintenance Project budget and fund balance.

Asheville City Council meets at 5 p.m. in council chambers on the second floor of City Hall at 70 Court Plaza, Asheville. Council will also hold a budget work session to review and discuss the city’s enterprise funds and Capital Improvement Fund beginning at 3 p.m. The full meeting agenda and supporting documents can be found here.

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About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Green Scene editor and a reporter for Mountain Xpress. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

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18 thoughts on “Water bill increases on April 9 Council agenda

  1. FARQWAD

    This is just the beginning. Rather than cutting expenses council will try to raise revenues.
    Step 2 – raise property taxes
    Step 3 – implement prepared food tax in the city
    Step 4 – raise prices of city services
    Step 5 – spend more money rather than be efficient
    Step 6 – Pass the blame, never take responsibility

    • K Smith

      ^ exactly what s/he said. We have got to get some of these council people and dept. heads out of their jobs. These people are totally tone deaf to the community. People are literally priced out of living here, can’t anyone at CofA see this? Meanwhile the agenda is full of $100,000+ contracts to improve the civic center and other things. But the civic center commision is not in favor of Harrah’s large bid. Are you people nuts?

      • Lulz

        LOL like that’ll happen. They want you priced out of here. That way they can bring in wealthier fools to pay even more.

        • bsummers

          GOP Rep. Chuck McGrady and Sen. Paul Newton have just introduced a bill in Raleigh that would extract $24 a year from every residential or business water/sewer account holder in North Carolina. C’mon, let’s hear the outrage.

          § 162A – 22 1. Surcharge for water and wastewater services
          (a) A monthly surcharge is imposed on each active account of a public water system or wastewater system, payable by the account holder, as follows:
          (1) One dollar ($1.00) per residential account receiving water service from a local government unit.
          (2) One dollar ($1.00) per residential account receiving wastewater service from a local government unit.
          (3) One dollar ($1.00) per nonresidential account receiving water service from a local government unit.
          (4) One dollar ($1.00) per nonresidential account receiving wastewater service from a local government unit.

          https://www.ncleg.gov/Sessions/2019/Bills/House/PDF/H570v1.pdf

          • Lulz

            To hell with those crooks too. Don’t for one second think though that it gives the city a free pass to fleece people. Tax the effing hotels and breweries. They’re making millions here and contributing much less than what they’re extracting,

          • FARQWAD

            Bsummers – That is outrageous! However, this article was not about Raleigh. It was about Asheville city council.

          • bsummers

            The point, FARQWAD (if that is your real name), is that water infrastructure is underfunded everywhere. McGrady’s bill there is addressing the fact that there are struggling communities all over the state of North Carolina that are teetering on the edge of bankruptcy in large part because of the cost of maintaining aging water/wastewater systems.

            Asheville’s is in pretty good shape, but a modest increase here and there is not unexpected. Asheville is right at the median household water bill for the state, and rates highly on affordability.

            https://efc.sog.unc.edu/resource/north-carolina-water-and-wastewater-rates-dashboard

            The usual suspects will rant at every increase from the City on anything, but the motivation seems to me to be political.

          • FARQWAD

            Point is – Bsummers ( I could care Less if that is your real name or not – this is the internet get over yourself) this is about council’s ongoing fiscal irresponsibility. Revenue is not the problem here, expenses are. This is one more example of the ongoing mindset of council. Spend more, increase rate/taxes more. I have no political motive, I despise republicans and democrats equally and any career politician at that. I applaud city council for their civic duty, but they are not above scrutiny.
            From the dashboard you linked I pulled up the financial benchmarks tab for City of Asheville water fund. Per that tab COA water has 1,201 days cash on hand “Generally, a utility should aim to maintain several months’ worth of cash on hand, and at the very least exceed the length of the billing period (usually 30 to 60 days). ” – from the same link. The quick ratio is 6.62 meaning they have 6.62 times current assets to current liabilities. If you looks at their financial benchmarks they are in extremely good shape and it lends itself to the question of why rates must be raised? What is the plan to divert funds away from this fund?

          • Drake

            I like making excuses too, when I run a project poorly at maximum cost. Don’t you all dare talk about his city council. Liberals are good, Conservatives bad. Everything’s underfunded, doesn’t stop the city from spending, spending, spending. But hey the new downtown bus station will have solar panels!

          • bsummers

            What is the plan to divert funds away from this fund?

            See, that’s where you went off the rails. Everyone knows that the City is barred by law from doing that.

          • FARQWAD

            bsummers – page 41 of the 2018 CAFR – transfers to other funds and transfers from other funds. It does happen, ask AB tech where their extra sales tax went (granted that was the county but the point is the same)? You seem extra sensitive to the water situation in Asheville, and I have no problem with maintaining the quality of the system. The fact is that the water fund is in a great financial position. I do have a problem with the ever increasing rates of every service and tax in this city. We raise taxes in the name of affordable housing – what sense does that make? I will fight every increase in costs the city undertakes until the city proves that they are managing costs and creating efficiencies. I am not against taxes or fees, I am against raising them without proper justification. This council is proving to be a great catalyst for gentrification. This increase is not in the best interests of the citizens of Asheville.

          • bsummers

            Yes, transfers happen. You’ll notice in your own source that there are no transfers from the City’s water fund, only transfers to it. Are you aware of the existence of the Sullivan Acts? Anyway, here again is Chuck McGrady himself imploring people to stop telling the “really bad information” that the City of Asheville is robbing the water fund.
            https://www.dropbox.com/s/ofuasm876jo3a76/chuckcouncil120114.mp3?dl=0
            Yes, I am sensitive to the water issue – I’d like us to get beyond the cycle that has existed for almost 100 years, that is exacerbated by rumors and lies and exaggerations told by people trying to make the case that the City should have it’s water system forcibly taken.

          • FARQWAD

            I think you are missing my point. The city is raising fees for something that is in great financial position. Transfers do happen ( to or from). Why would I want the city water forcibly taken? I think you may be confusing me with the others you argue with on this website (If that is your real name, if that is your real name, if that is your real name…………). I am against blindly raising the cost of living in Asheville, water system or not. The rich can easily absorb the endless increases, the poor, indigent and large family’s will suffer. No the water system does not need increased rates, they have 3.3 years worth of cash on hand!!! Think beyond the water system, I would have this same argument for raising the price of any city service that is flush with money to begin with.

          • bsummers

            I am against blindly raising the cost of living in Asheville, water system or not.

            You can do that without floating the idea that the City is planning to rob water revenue for other purposes, as you did previously. Thems fightin’ words ’round here. Since you didn’t answer my question, I’ll assume you don’t know what the Sullivan Acts are or what’s behind them. Asheville is unique in the State of North Carolina in that they are barred from using water revenue for anything other than running the water system. There’s a tight accounting system in place to prevent any illegal “transfers”. Those who do want to seize the City’s water system watch it like a hawk.

          • FARQWAD

            Would that be the tight accounting system that grossly overestimated the tax revenue from the purchase of Mission by HCA? Or would those be the tight accounting system that grossly underestimated the cost of property acquisition on the radtip project?
            Wait I know, its the tight accounting system that led to 60+ adjusting journal entries made by the auditors to clean up the 2018 COA financial statements – it’s that tight accounting system for sure.
            Have fun with that Sullivan act water champ!

  2. Enlightened Enigma

    Tell City Council to make Harrahs build a new casino HERE …or they could rehab the civic center into a casino and build us a new one! anyway Asheville needs a casino HERE NOW! it’s Asheville AF!

  3. C-Law

    Asheville has gotten EXACTLY the government it DESERVES!!

    At least and until its residents wake the hell up and overthrow council, or as I did with my family about 20 months ago–sell high and move the hell away from the leftist snafu/fubar status quo circus! ha!

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