City Council OKs hike to water fees

COVINGTON -- The City Council approved an increase in water and sewer rates Monday night. Officials said the increase is in response to a hike in the wholesale cost of water by Newton County.

Now, the minimum charge for up to the first 3,000 gallons of water used has increased from $13.80 to $15.18. For additional usage of 3,001 to 50,000 gallons of water, the charge was increased to $4.84 cents from $4.40 per 1,000 gallons. For usage above 50,000 gallons, the charge will be $5.04, up from $4.58, per 1,000 gallons.

In addition, the charge for sanitary sewer service would be $6 per 1,000 gallons, which represents a 25 percent increase. Currently the city charges 110 percent of the water rate for sewer service.

According to Public Works Director Billy Bouchillon, taking into account the proposed increase in wholesale water costs by the county, the increasing cost of operations and a decline in water and sewer tap fee revenues, the city would have lost an estimated $2 million in the coming budget year. With the changes, the city still stands to lose an estimated $750,000, he said.

City officials increased rates last year as well, citing an increase in wholesale water costs.

The rate increase was approved 4-1, with Councilwoman Hawnethia Williams opposed. Councilwoman Janet Goodman was absent.

In other news, the council agreed to allow the Newton Paranormal Society to investigate paranormal activity at Covington Cemetery off Davis Street.

According to City Manager Steve Horton, members of the society have had reports of sightings of ghosts of Confederate soldiers there.

They will be required to keep off grave sites and conduct their investigations from the roadways in the cemetery. They will also be required to notify the police department before conducting the investigation.

According to the group's Website, they use digital cameras, voice recorders, electromagnetic field detectors and white noise filters to determine if paranormal activity is occurring. They review evidence gathered from the devices along with documented personal experiences to make a determination.

"I don't think we'll probably have any objections from the residents, so I recommend we approve this," said Councilman Mike Whatley.

The motion was approved 3-2 with Williams and Councilman Chris Smith opposed.