City of Bridgeport reviews rate change options

By Racey Burden | Published Wednesday, February 14, 2018
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Bridgeport City Council discussed Monday a plan to get the water/wastewater utility fund back to operating without a deficit. To do so, they’re looking at rate changes for both utilities.

The fund has operated at a deficit for eight of the last 11 years. City Manager Jesica McEachern said the flood in 2015, poor water quality, loss of water due to flushing and lower consumption have made the last few years especially bad.

“Right now we’re not providing the best quality service we can provide, and we’re certainly not taking care of our infrastructure,” McEachern said.

The water/wastewater fund has borrowed $1.2 million from other city funds, and McEachern said the goal is for that to be repaid within the next 10 years and for the fund to yield at least $100,000 per year for maintenance.

The city hired Schneider Engineering to conduct a cost of service study and rate analysis for the utility funds. Ramsey Cripe and Jason Weisepapa of Schneider Engineering presented their findings to the council Monday.

To raise more revenue, the first step Cripe suggested was ending the practice of including the first 3,000 gallons in the base rate, a formerly common practice that Cripe said has now fallen by the wayside.

“It may have worked in 2005, but it’s not working today,” Cripe said.

Cripe presented three options for the water utility rates to the city. The first option was to include the first 3,000 gallons in the variable rate scale, increase the base charge by $10 and raise water rates by 5 percent every year. That option would achieve revenue neutrality in the first year and continue to be profitable the next 10 years.

The second option was to include up to 1,000 gallons in the base charge, increase the base charge by $20 and increase variable water rates by 0.5 percent each year. Cripe said that option would have to be reevaluated by the third year, because projections showed the water fund would be back to operating at a deficit following the third year.

The third option was to include the first 3,000 gallons in the variable rate scale, increase water rates by 12 percent each year and increase the base rate by 0.5 percent. Under that option, Cripe said the city would still see a deficit for the first five years, meaning the city would have to continue to borrow from other budget items to support the water fund.

“Y’all know the position of the other funds,” McEachern said. “There’s not enough to borrow.”

Cripe recommended the first option for the water utility rates. He also recommended increasing the wastewater rate by $5 for each rate class, and then increasing the rate by 5 percent annually.

“You think [the citizens] are going to like us better when we raise their water rates?” councilman Bobby Brazier asked.

“No,” McEachern said.

McEachern mentioned that Schneider Engineering’s plan built in money for improvements and treatments for the utility system while assuming that the city’s water/wastewater customer base won’t grow.

Weisepapa showed the council a chart of Bridgeport’s proposed rates versus its current rate and those of other Wise County cities. The proposed rate fell into the middle.

“We’re on the lower end now,” council member David Correll said. “The middle ground helps us accomplish our goals.”

Councilman Kevin Lopez asked if the city could also look at a water utility district tax like Decatur’s. McEachern said that would be possible, but once created the district would be its own governing body.

The council took no action on the study because it was a workshop option. The rates will be discussed again at a later meeting.

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