Water cost change

After reviewing a water rate study for the city, Wapakoneta’s utilities consultant advises altering the water bill structure to include a base cost fee — a move a Wapakoneta City Council councilor and committee chair favors.

During Wednesday’s Utilites Commitee meeting, John Courtney, of Findlay-based Courtney & Associates, presented Wednesday during a Utilities Committee meeting the findings of a 2012 water rate study which included a breakdown of the costs for the city. The study showed the city pays $4.52 per month for the cost of service — for meters and services as well as billing and collection — and Courtney favored moving toward instituting a cost of service fee and adjusting water usage rates to reflect the inclusion of this fee.

Councilor-at-large Tom Finkelmeier Jr. agreed with Courtney’s suggestion, saying this is more fair to the water consumer and more reflective of the costs the city needs to recovery to operate the Wapakoneta Water Treatment Plant and the fresh water distribution system.

“I think we received exactly what we asked for and Mr. Courtney put us on a path to correct the existing water rate structure to help bring the rates more in line with actual usage and to keep a healthy balance in the water funds,” Finkelmeier said. “One of the things Mr. Courtney pointed out is there are certain customer charges that he recommends be billed as a separate service fee, which is a flat fee per customer independent of their actual water usage.”

Finkelmeier, who serves as the Utilities Committee chair, explained this would not result in an additional charge to Wapakoneta water consumers because he intends to adjust the minimum usage fee that currently exists.

At present, a Wapakoneta water consumer are charged $8.52 for the first 200 cubic feet of water. Courtney suggested charging all water consumers a flat fee of $5 for having a water meter and any water used up to a certain amount, for example 100 cubic feet, and then $3.52 for the water usage above 100 cubic feet up to 200 cubic feet.

This would result in no real increase to consumers, but would provide a more steady flow of money since some customers have no water usage or little water usage.

Finkelmeier explained the last water rate increase, a 5 percent increase, went into effect with January’s water bill and no changes would need to be made until later this year.

He said he would like some form of these adjustments made prior to the next water rate increase slated to go into effect Dec. 1 because he favors the city recouping its expenses whether a property owner uses water or not because the meter and billing costs still exist for the city.

“I think implementing a cost of service fee is more equitable to the customer and the city and it fits my philosophy regarding the city’s fixed-cost utilities, which is if we are not collecting enough revenue to operate a fresh water treatment plant and distribution system, a wastewater treatment plant and collection system, electric substations and electric lines and system then we are not planning properly for the future,” Finkelmeier said. “It is inexcusable for us to allow those utilities to run into a deficit. We need to adjust the fees accordingly.”

Courtney advised perhaps phasing in the cost of service fee if needed.

He also said the city should re-examine increasing water rates by an across-the-board percentage because it creates a larger gap between user fees from the bottom tier of usage, or typically residents, to the top tier of usage, primarily industrial.

Finkelmeier agreed, but he explained no decision could be made until further information is obtained. He intends for Utilities Committee members to meet again with Courtney, who plans to have a breakdown of water consumers at each level of usage so water rates can be set accordingly and without penalizing any one group in a single year.

Finkelmeier favors phasing in any additional increases in the future to help consumers.

He said the next Utilities Committee meeting would be scheduled at Monday’s council meeting or at the Feb. 18 council meeting.