Board wants to cut water customers some slack

Jul. 31, 2014 @ 07:08 PM

County commissioners are looking to helps customers with fluctuating water bills.

At the Vance County Board of Commissioners water planning committee meeting Thursday, commissioner Dan Brummitt asked staff to draft a policy giving customers bill adjustments if they can show proof of any plumbing malfunctions after an unusually high bill.

During the meeting, the committee reviewed three repeal requests from customers.

According to Envirolink project manager J.P. McCann’s reports, one customer had used more than 12,000 gallons of water the first month and accumulated a bill of about $112. The bills that followed showed only 1,200 gallons used for a cost of about $45.

He said the customer lives alone and had gone on vacation for a week out of that month. He inspected the meters for accuracy and found no issues, but there could have been other sources for the large amount of water used, such as leaking pipes.

Brummitt said the county should allow one bill adjustment every two years — if a customer’s first bill is unusually high, they will get the overage refunded after they establish an average amount. Any high bills afterwards could be discounted 50 percent of the extra cost.

County Manager Jerry Ayscue said staff will draft the policy to bring back to the committee next month.

Also during the meeting, Brummitt said the committee should look at asking contractors to redo construction on Rock Mill Road where a bore — the hollow hole where water pipes lie — was dug in a different location that the designer’s plan.

Contractors realized the bore was created wrong when a well broke along it, and the entire road had to be repaired.

Brummitt said the county should require contractors to extend their liability for the construction to make sure nothing goes wrong in the near future or have construction workers redo it all together.

County staff said they would speak with contractors to find solutions.

Committee members again discussed what the county should charge as the base water fee.

Chairwoman Deborah Brown requested the committee reconsider their decision to keep the higher monthly rate during the full board’s meeting in July.

Deputy county manager and planning director Jordan McMillen said decreasing the base fee to $20 would cost the county about $117,000.

Brummitt said he wanted to keep the base fee at $30 because the county could not afford not to.

“We have such a negative cash flow,” he said.

Garrison said he was concerned for people who might have felt misled by the change.

He suggested staff draft a letter explaining $20 was a cost estimated years ago; since sign-ups are lower than expected, the base fee would stay on the higher end.

Staff gave the committee updates, including:

• The water project is adding about 30 new connections in Phase 1 each month.

• The number of customers who signed up for access to the water supply but opted out of using it have decreased by eight customers a month.

• A complete list of past-due accounts and incorrect addresses will be drafted and presented at the meeting Aug. 4.

• Final equipment is being installed to begin servicing water in Phase 2, which McMillen said should be done by September.

The committee did not discuss collaborating with the city to supply public water to the extra-territorial jurisdiction, which commissioner Tommy Hester — who is not a member of the water committee — talked about at Monday’s Henderson City Council meeting.

Contact the writer at dhairston@hendersondispatch.com.