Covington Council OKs rate hikes

COVINGTON - The City Council approved natural gas, water and garbage collection rate increases Monday night.

The gas rate increase is the first since 2004 and was needed because costs have increased as materials, labor and contract services have risen in price, Utilities Director Bill Meecham said.

"The city needs to restore its income from natural gas sales to a level that provides a reasonable margin," he said in a memo to the council.

Rates will change from $6.55 per MCF to $7.05 per MCF. An MCF is 1,000 cubic feet of gas. Gas meters typically read in cubic feet or a multiple of cubic feet.

The residential base rate will increase from $9.50 to $11.95. The small commercial base rate will increase from $11 to $13.50, the medium commercial base rate from $25 to $27.50 and the large commercial base rate from $50 to $55.

Mayor Kim Carter previously said that gas rates in the city, unlike electric rates, are some of the lowest in the state for natural gas providers.

"We are historically one of the lowest rates in the state, so we're trying to make this balance out," she said.

The council unanimously approved the rate increase.

The proposed water rate and solid waste fee increases stem from an increase in charges from the county, Carter said.

County officials notified the city they plan to increase the wholesale water rate from $1.51 per 1,000 gallons to $1.59 per 1,000 gallons.

As a result, Public Works Director Billy Bouchillon recommended the council increase the city's base rates. The following changes were approved: the minimum charge for the first 3,000 gallons of usage will increase from $13.55 to $13.80; for 3,001 gallons to 50,000 gallons the rate will increase from $4.50 to $4.58 per 1,000 gallons; and for usage of more than 50,000 gallons, the rate will increase from $4.50 to $4.58 per 1,000 gallons.

The county is also raising its tipping fees at the landfill from $33 per ton to $35 per ton.

In response, the City Council agreed to raise its garbage collection fees by $1 per month, from $21 to $22, amounting to an increase of slightly less than 5 percent.

The senior citizen rate will increase from $14.70 to $15, and commercial and industrial rates will increase about 5 percent.

Carter said city officials were preparing to request a reduction in tipping fees, given that the city is the landfill's largest customer.

"We felt like over the years the citizens of Covington have helped build that landfill," she said.

But when city officials met with county representatives, they were told that not only was a reduction out of the question, but they would be paying more, she said.

The vote to raise water and garbage rates was 4 to 2, with council members John Howard and Hawnethia Williams in opposition.

The rate increases will go into effect July 1.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.