Fayetteville Public Works Commission officials said inflationary pressures made rate increases necessary for electric, water and sewer services for city residents.
The proposed rates, which would go into effect in May, are estimated to increase the monthly costs for a typical family by $12.97, according to a presentation by Jason Alban, director of financial planning and capital projects for PWC, at a commission meeting Wednesday.
Inflation has affected many sectors of the economy in the past few years. PWC, Alban said, is “not immune to these challenges.”
“Everyone is affected,” Alban said.
Examples that Alban cited in his presentation include higher prices for water-treating chemicals and electrical transformers, the cost of which has increased by 100% to 200%, he said.
Annexation costs have increased by as much as 300%, a figure that stood out for PWC Secretary Evelyn Shaw.
“That’s enormous, from my small perspective, and I know it will be for our public,” Shaw said during the meeting.
Mick Noland, PWC’s interim chief executive officer, warned that stricter regulations on PFAS in drinking water would drive up costs further. The federal Environmental Protection Agency has said it is set to take final action on March 3 on interim health advisories from last year. Those health advisories significantly lowered the amount of PFAS allowed in drinking water.
“We're going to have to build something very expensive to meet the requirements,” Noland said. “That's going to be a substantial cost.”
PWC Treasurer Wade Fowler said that the people contaminating the groundwater near the Cape Fear River are responsible for the cost increase.
“More emphasis needs to be put on getting those people to stop,” Fowler said.
Chemours, a chemical company with operations in Cumberland County, produces GenX, a trade name for one PFAS. In response to the EPA’s advisory, the company filed a lawsuit last year questioning the science behind it.
Criticism from residents
PWC will vote on the proposed rates at its next meeting on March 8. To prepare for that decision, PWC held a public hearing during Wednesday’s meeting. No residents spoke at the meeting, but two residents submitted written statements criticizing the new rates.
“Rates are increasing, but wages are not. Electric and water services are an essential part of everyday living. I'm already having a hard time paying my bill where rates were increased a few years ago,” Ivana Williams said in a statement. “How many more increases are needed?”
During his presentation prior to the public hearing, Alban pointed out that PWC decreased electric rates by 4.3% in 2020.
Mike Barton, who said he lives on a fixed income through Social Security, also submitted a written statement.
“PWC has no right to raise rates. This is a utility service and, therefore, should not be making a profit on its customers,” Barton said. “Inflation is high, and people are still having financial problems after the pandemic.”
Fowler said PWC is not trying to generate a profit for anyone.
“You have to remember that we are not-for-profit,” Fowler said. “We're trying to do the best we can to provide the service at the lowest possible price for that kind of service.”
PWC Secretary Shaw said it’s important for people — including members of the Fayetteville City Counci — to know what is driving the cost increases.
“It's very crucial that our City Council understands that this is an enormous burden for PWC. It's a financial burden that nobody foresaw 10 years ago,” Shaw said. “Our chickens are coming home to roost in more ways than one.”
Ben Sessoms covers Fayetteville and education for CityView. He can be reached at email@example.com.