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Authority to increase water rates

COVINGTON -- The Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority has increased water and sewer rates, Executive Director Mike Hopkins announced Tuesday.

The rate hike will mean a water bill increase of 79 cents per month for a household using an average of 5,000 gallons of water, and a sewer bill increase of $1.50.

"In these difficult times, we wish we didn't have to adjust rates at all," Hopkins said in a prepared statement. "But the reality is that our system continues to get older and needs investment in order to keep delivering service to our community. Many of the water and sewer lines that serve customers are four decades old and must be replaced to reduce the ongoing cost of repairs. Old lines are being replaced with more durable materials to extend their useful life further into the future.

"The authority is also realizing the benefit of earlier capital investments such as radio read meters installed a few years ago. This system means less staff is required to read meters each month, allowing those employees to focus on increasing efficiencies in repairs and other field operations."

In addition, for the second consecutive year, WASA is facing a rate increase on wholesale water costs. Newton County is the wholesale water supplier to WASA and the county's five municipalities. City of Covington officials approved a rate increase Monday in reaction to the county's rate hike.

"Fortunately, we saw what was happening with the economy early enough to base our budget on a more realistic view of things," Hopkins said in a prepared statement. "That means we didn't have all our eggs in the 'new development basket' and stayed within our budget instead of predicting revenue from new water and sewer tap sales."

However, the decline in water and sewer tap sales has affected the authority's revenues.

In 2006 and 2007, the authority was selling as many as 145 taps a month. Last year, water taps totaled 73 and sewer taps totaled just 19.

The new rates, which will go into effect July 1, are as follows for residential customers:

Water

* Up to 3,000 gallons per month -- $5.15 per 1,000 gallons, up from $5;

* 4,000-8,000 gallons per month -- $5.67 per 1,000 gallons, up from $5.50;

* 9,000-20,000 gallons per month -- $6.18 per 1,000 gallons, up from $6;

* More than 20,000 gallons per month -- $6.70 per 1,000 gallons, up from $6.50

Sewer

* $6.30 per 1,000 gallons, up from $6.

WASA last increased rates in 2008. The authority serves 22,122 water customers and 6,048 sewer customers.

Hopkins said the authority has tried to keep the cost increase to a minimum and "we'll continue to look for ways to keep our expenses down. We're thankful the cost-saving efforts of our staff are paying off for our customers."