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CFPUA votes to increase combined water, sewer utility rates

CFPUA votes to increase combined water, sewer utility rates
Published: May. 11, 2022 at 4:49 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - You can add your water and sewer bill to the list of things costing more as the Cape Fear Public Utility Authority board approved an 8.5 percent increase for combined water and sewer services Wednesday morning.

“We’ve had three years without a rate increase, but in anticipation of the new system going online this summer, we need to have the funds available to operate that system,” said CFPUA executive director Kenneth Waldroup.

That system includes the granular activated carbon filters, which will remove nearly all PFAS contaminants from the water. It will cost nearly $3 million to operate a year. To cover the costs, the CFPUA’s customers will see a change in their monthly bills.

For the average person’s bill, that will come out to about five dollars extra starting July 1. While that may not sound like much, that’s more than a gallon of gas and adds up to about 60 dollars over a year.

That can be draining, especially for folks living on a fixed income.

“Every day, people struggle to keep a roof over their head, you know,” said Deirdre Moench, who has lived in New Hanover County for about 10 years. “Rent has gone up astronomically. Our rates of pay do not go up to match this kind of constant snowballing that’s going on and that’s really important to understand.”

CFPUA hopes Chemours will ultimately foot the bill for the filters but that lawsuit could take years to sort out and there’s no telling if the result will be in the utility company’s favor. That’s why, at least for now, the cost will go to consumers.

“Our rate increases are only those necessary to operate the facility to deliver the best quality of water possible,” said Waldroup. “This summer, we will be implementing new technology that will result in even higher quality water.”

Still, as prices for everything else skyrocket along with those utility bills, neighbors fear it could drive some people out of the area.

“I will do my best not to let it push me out because my home is here, my job is here, my family is here,” said Moench. “But at the end of the day, yeah, it will. They’ll go further out and they’ll find other places that are cheaper.”

Waldroup says economic drivers initially suggested the utility company increase its rates by up to 16 percent but leaders felt the eight percent increase was a better move for its customers.

The budget for the 2023 fiscal year totals about $99 million. It passed almost unanimously with only Wilmington Councilman Luke Waddell voting not to pass it as proposed. He said in the meeting that he took issue with another part of the budget: authorizing the position of a diversity, equity and inclusion specialist.

Details on what that new position would look like for the utility company have not been decided. Waldroup says it could come to fruition in one of three ways: an outside hire of an officer or specialist, a contract with an external company or using existing staff. If an outside hire is made, it could cost between $85,000 to $100,000.

“The position being roughly funded at $100,000 is roughly twice the average income of our ratepayer,” Waddell pointed out during the meeting. “I think we can utilize our ratepayer funds in a more prudent manner.”

While the budget passed with that authorization included, there is not currently any funding for that position’s salary. CFPUA would first have to identify both the goal of that position and the funding needed before moving forward.

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