A weekslong debate over water fees for Asheville residents came to an end April 25 after Asheville City Council voted 5-2 to implement increases recommended by city staff. The new rates will take effect in July and will cost a typical household roughly $43 more per year. Council members Kim Roney and Sage Turner opposed the change.
The decision comes after an extended back-and-forth between Council and staffers on whether the city could freeze rates for residential customers while still generating the revenue needed for water infrastructure maintenance and other expenses. Council had voted unanimously March 28 to delay approval of the fee increases, asking staff to rework the water budget.
But during an April 11 budget work session, Asheville Budget Manager Taylor Floyd again recommended the rate hike. He said that the water budget would fall short by $2.5 million without the higher residential fees.
At the April 25 meeting, Council member Roney reiterated concerns over the lack of options presented to Council. She also requested information about why residential customers pay higher rates for water than commercial or industrial water consumers. (Single-family and multifamily housing customers pay $4.77 and $4.20 per cubic foot, respectively, compared with as little as $2.29 per cubic foot for large manufacturers.)
“I know that there’s benefits to economic development and to local businesses when we have incentives and programs that support them. But this isn’t a new conversation, and I’m not sure if ‘Hurry up and move ahead’ will result in what we want, which is change,” Roney explained. “Even though I know that we are going to have to have [regular] rate increases, I’m fundamentally opposed to continuing the bulk discount at this level, which is why I can’t support it.”
“I’m just sensitive to rising costs for the residents right now, especially after the conversation of potentially being wanting to freeze it and then reversing on that,” added Turner. She said she had received emails from constituents concerned about Council’s apparent about-face.
Two members of the public also spoke out against the fee increases. Former City Council candidate Andrew Fletcher pointed to the discount that commercial water customers enjoy when buying water in bulk, while resident Katy Hudson voiced frustration at the pushback Council had received from city staff.
“This meeting clarified one thing: that city staff are ignoring City Council, and therefore, democracy,” said Hudson. “I think that you guys are being disrespected en masse.”
Council member Maggie Ullman said her vote in favor of the increases was contingent on Council reviewing the results of a cost-of-service study and revisiting the issue this fall. Floyd said that study is currently underway and will offer insights into how the city may restructure its water fees and rates.
Following the increase vote, Council unanimously approved a motion to reconsider water rates after that analysis was completed. Council could then vote to update the fees or rate structure later this year, with any changes taking effect at the start of 2024.