WEST POINT — West Point residents will pay an increase in water rates for the first time since 2007.
Despite resident concerns, Town Council voted 4-2 Tuesday night to approve a $14.90 bimonthly increase in the minimum water rates, effective immediately.
With Council's approval, the bimonthly minimum rate will increase from $30 to $44.90 and the uniform rate will increase from $4.40 to $4.80 per 1,000 gallons.
Town residents can expect to receive their bimonthly water bills with the new rates in September.
The minimum rate covers 10,000 gallons of water use. While water use varies, a household that currently uses 12,000 gallons pays $38.80 bimonthly. Under the new rates, the same household will pay $54.50 bimonthly.
Council member Deborah Ball voted against the ordinance because residents, especially the elderly, are already struggling to pay bills, especially in light of tax increases.
Councilman Wayne Healy also voted against the rate increase.
"This is an old community and I just don't support the increase to the water rates," Ball said. "I'm not saying it's a lot of money but sometimes it's just the principal of it. An increase is an increase."
Resident Will Randall opposed the rate increase because it could deter people from moving to West Point. He also questioned the town's water quality.
"There are a lot of empty houses in West Point right now and there will be even more houses that are empty," he said.
Although several other residents voiced their dissatisfaction with the rate increases, Town Manager John Edwards said that staff proposed the increase because the total amount of water sales has dropped significantly, with water production decreasing from 178 million to 127 million gallons per year.
"We speculate that resident water sales have dropped because they are conserving water and money," he said.
Resident Brad Phlipot commented that the quality of the water might have something to do with the decrease in usage.
"Whenever you take a shower, the chlorine smell is so bad it will burn your eyes," he said. "I have a 70-pound dog that won't drink the tap water. I have to buy Deer Park bottled water for my 70-pound dog."
Edwards noted that the town is looking into the chlorine content.
According to Edwards, the rate increase was also proposed to adequately fund the general reserve accounts, Edward said, which would be used to upgrade and replace parts of the water system as it ages. Staff aims to raise $500,000 over time, an amount that would not cover any major system replacement.
"We and the Department of Health feel it's a fair number," he said. "What we're trying to do is ensure we have adequate funds available to meet these needs."
"We're proposing we save this money over a reasonable span so it doesn't hit our customers all at once."
The water utility fund is an enterprise system, or self-sufficient program. This means that the money collected from users pays for the expenses. According to West Point Treasurer T.C. Moore, the water utility enterprise has not been sufficiently covering the costs.
"That's why we are raising the rates," Moore said. "We want the program to regenerate enough money to cover the operation."
Council members Tina Gulley, Paul Kelley, Jack Lawson, and Chris Vincent voted in favor of the ordinance.
Councilman O.B. "Bub" Shreaves was absent.
Rebecca Lundberg contributed to this article.
Martin can be reached by phone at 804-885-0040.