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City giving second look to ‘high end’ water rates

In an effort toward giving a local industry a break while stillmeeting bond issue debt service obligations, Brookhaven officialsTuesday voted to take another look at city water and sewer ratesthat were approved last year.

Tuesday’s special meeting followed an earlier meeting in whichofficials from Specialty Minerals Inc. expressed concerns about thepossibility of $48,000-$50,000 a month water bills when the newindustry reaches full capacity. Engineering officials indicatedwater usage could double at that point. The industry is by far thecity’s biggest water customer at almost five million gallons amonth.

City Attorney Joe Fernald said industry officials want to paytheir fair share but also avoid the “inordinate burden” of the highwater bill under the city’s current schedule. The industry wasseeking a schedule that would allow the city to collect higherrevenue, but also give some relief after a certain level of waterusage is met, Fernald said.

When SMI located in Brookhaven, the city approved a $2 millionbond issue to furnish needed water and sewer system improvements.Anticipated higher revenue following SMI’s opening was expected tocover bond issue debt service, but Fernald said the bond issue wasnot directly linked to SMI because that would void the bonds’ taxexempt status.

“The bonds themselves are not directed toward any one industry,”Fernald said. “They’re not tied to any specific industry. They’retied to the higher revenue.”

City Engineer Carl Ray Furr indicated the possibility of legalaction following Fernald’s explanation of the bond issuelegalities. Aldermen went into executive session for reasons ofprospective litigation.

Following an approximately one hour session, aldermen approved amotion for Furr to review water and sewer rates on a city widebasis.

Furr said the new rate study will not focus on residential andlow-end water customers. He said his work, which was estimated totake about 30 days, would not impact those customers.

“It didn’t impact them the last time,” Furr said. “We’re goingto look at the middle and high end brackets.”

Furr described the middle bracket as 10,000 gallons a monthusage. Under the current water and sewer schedule, which went intoeffect in October, water rates for usage between 4,000 gallons anda million gallons rose 20 cents per 1,000 gallons to $1.70 whilethe sewage fee went up 15 cents per 1,000 to $1.40 per 1,000gallons.

The water and sewer rates for between one million and twomillions gallons went up 30 cents to $1.80 and 35 cents to $1.60,respectively, for every 1,000 gallons.

Users who require over two million gallon of water a month sawtheir rates double. Their water fee went up to $3 per 1,000 gallonsand the sewer fee rose to $2.50 per 1,000 gallons.

Aldermen also Fernald contacting the city’s bond issue attorneyto talk about the bond issue situation and high water users todiscuss revision of the water rate schedule. SMI officials did notattend Tuesday’s meeting and were unavailable for comment Wednesdaymorning.