Phenix City Council considers 5 percent water, sewage rate increase

Those who use and access Phenix City water and sewage services are facing an across-the-board rate increase beginning Aug. 1 if council adopts a rate-hike proposal from the Utilities Department.

A 5 percent increase has been proposed for the city’s 14,000 residential and commercial customers, according to Utilities Director Roger Conner. For the average residential customer who uses 6,000 gallons per month, the bill will increase from $39.42 to $41.40.

Any increase will have to be approved by the five-member Phenix City Council, and it is expected to take up the matter at a meeting scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday. The last time rates were increased was October 2012, when a 4.5 percent increase was approved.

If approved, the rate increase would take effect Aug. 1, Conner said.

Phenix City has contracts with the Russell County Water Authority, Smiths Station Water and Sewer Authority and the Fort Mitchell Water Authority. Those increases would take effect Oct. 1, Conner said.

The rate increase is expected to generate between $600,000 and $700,000 annually, Conner said. That money will help finance a $5 million upgrade to the city’s waste water treatment facility on State Docks Road, City Manager Wallace Hunter said.

The rate plan and improvements were presented Monday night at a public hearing at the Central Activities Center. Less than a dozen residents attended and only one spoke out against it.

There have been few improvements to the waste water treatment facility since 1996, Conner said. There was a small upgrade in 2001-2002 and a mandated upgrade in 2010, Conner said.

“This will sustain us into the future,” Conner said. “It will take our capacity to 6 million gallons per day.”

Currently, the system is processing between 3 million and 3.5 million gallons of waste water a day, Conner said. The system was permitted to handle 7.75 million gallons, but due to changing regulations and system issues the current capacity is about 3.5 million gallons, Conner said.

“We have to do this,” Conner said.

Hunter agreed.

“It is time to upgrade the waste water treatment facility,” Hunter said. “ADEM (Alabama Department of Environmental Management) has been working with us on this.”

Even with the increases, Phenix City water and sewer rates are still the lowest among neighboring towns. The average bill in Columbus is $45.54 or more than $4 more than the new bill in Phenix City if council approves the rate hike. In Opelika, Ala., that bill is $59.88. It is more than $67 in Smiths Station and more than $74 in Russell County.

“We are in good shape compared to our neighbors,” Conner said. “The other side of that is are the rates too low. You could say, yes. But we have to do this in a reasonable manner.”

In addition to the rate increase, the city will also significantly raise fees.

If a customer has his water disconnected due to non-payment, the reconnection fee will be raised from $60 to $75.

Tap for new development and system development fees for large commercial and industrial use would also increase. Tap fees for new development would increase about 15 percent from $650 to $750 for the smallest lines. Larger tap fees that now cost $3,000 would increase to $3,400.

The system development fees will increase dramatically. These fees have not changed in eight years. A customer that would pay $750 today will be facing a $2,000 fee.