Local News

Raleigh Might Pass Cost of Drought Onto Residents

Posted January 18, 2008 12:17 a.m. EST

— The drought has taken a toll everywhere: people's daily lives, their pocketbooks and municipalities' public utilities budgets. Raleigh officials were considering a 50 percent surcharge to pass that cost onto residents.

The City Council referred the proposal by Mayor Charles Meeker to the Public Works Committee. Meeker argued that the surcharge – applied to every residential customers' water bill – would serve dual purposes: encourage conservation and help raise funds for the city's Department of Public Utilities.

"We aren't supported by taxpayers' money, so we are only supported by water and sewer bills," said Ed Buchan, a water specialist with the public-utilities department. The surcharge could "make up for anticipated loss revenue if we don't have the ability to permit regulation this year," he added.

On Jan. 8, the City Council passed several water-conservation regulations proposed by Meeker – including a continued ban on outdoor watering. That measure, in particular, threatens the budget of the city's public-utilities department, officials said.

Overall, the Department of Public Utilities stands to use tens of millions of dollars, Meeker estimated. The department uses its funds to replace and maintain water lines and build water treatment plants.

"We're at a point now where capital improvement projects are very important, and they're very expensive now," Buchan said. "Historically, Raleigh has been very fortunate in being able to sort of delay having to do a lot of these things."

Those budgetary considerations, though, did not fly with some residents and at least one councilman.

"It seems like everything is attached to money, and I think that's wrong," Raleigh resident J.C. Edwards said.

Councilman Russ Stephenson proposed implementing a tiered water rate structure that would target high-water users, both residential and commercial.

Meeker said the city's billing system can not handle tiered rates, but city officials were looking at upgrading the software in the next couple years.

Resident Christine Floyd questioned whether she could cut back on her water use more than she has already.

"I drink about five bottles a day," Floyd said. "I cook with it everyday, shower with it. I don't know, it's really important."