published Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Hixson water rates go up for first time since 1985

BY THE NUMBERS

• $20.72: Current average Hixson homeowner water bill*

• $23.98: Average Hixson homeowner water bill, effective Nov. 1

• $25.61: Average Hixson homeowner water bill in 2016

• $27.24: Average Hixson homeowner water bill in 2017

Source: Hixson Utility District bi-monthly water bill for average 9,500 gallon monthly usage, excluding taxes and sewer fees.

Hixson homeowners who enjoy some of the cheapest water in Tennessee will have to pay higher water rates in November for the first time in nearly three decades.

The Hixson Utility District will raise the average household water bill this fall by nearly 16 percent in the first of three planned increases in the minimum water charge designed to help cover higher expenses since the last time the utility raised rates in 1985. Combined with additional annual increases planned in 2016 and 2017, Hixson residential water rates will rise by more than 30 percent over the next three years.

"Our revenues have been flat for a number of years, but our costs of electricity, chemicals, labor and other expenses keep going up," said Ken Rich, one of the three commissioners on the Hixson Utility District who recently voted to raise the minimum water charge. "In recent years, our operational expenses have increased at a faster rate than the growth in our revenues so we recognized we needed to adjust our rates to keep our revenues in line with our expenses."

For the typical residential customer of the Hixson water utility who uses 9,500 gallons of water a month, the bimonthly water bill will go up by $3.26 in November and by additional increments of $1.66 per bimonthly billing in each of the next two years. Over the next three years, the changes will add about 11 cents a day to the price of water in Hixson.

Hixson Utility District also bills for sewer fees for both the city of Chattanooga and the Hamilton County Water and Wastewater Treatment Authority, which more than doubles the effective bill for most consumers.

The Hixson utility is lowering the minimum water usage covered by the basic bimonthly fee for water service for residential customers, but it is not raising the per-gallon charge for the amount of water used above the minimum. Commercial and industrial rates will remain largely unchanged.

A study last year by McGill Associates, consultants for the Hixson Utility District, recommended the minimum rate be increased over each of the next three years to better reflect the actual costs of service and to be more in line with other utilities.

"Our minimum charge was for 6,000 gallons of water, which is much higher than other utilities," said Gregory Butler, a former Hixson Utility District commissioner who became the utility's general manager last December. "This will bring us more in line with the minimum charges at other water utilities."

But Hixson water rates will remain the lowest among water utilities in Hamilton County, averaging only about half the rate of Tennessee-American Water or some small rural districts, Butler said.

Hixson is the only local water utility able to get all of its water supplies from springs and wells. The utility treats the water with a few chemicals, but it doesn't have to filter and treat the water like most utilities that tap into surface water like the Tennessee River.

"Hixson does have some of the lowest rates in the state," said Bob Freudenthal, executive director of the Tennessee Association of Utility Districts, which surveyed water prices amongh the 500 water utilities across Tennessee three years ago.

The Hixson Utility District upplies water to 25,400 homes and businesses. It is the largest of the six water utility districts in Hamilton County.

"We believe the changes (in rates), once enacted, will enable us to be financially stable while keeping your rates lower than all neighboring water systems," the utility board said in a mailing sent last week to Hixson water users.

Contact Dave Flessner at dflessner@timesfreepress.com or at 757-6340.

about Dave Flessner...

Dave Flessner is the business editor for the Times Free Press. A journalist for 35 years, Dave has been business editor and projects editor for the Chattanooga Times Free Press, city editor for The Chattanooga Times, business and county reporter for the Chattanooga Times, correspondent for the Lansing State Journal and Ingham County News in Michigan, staff writer for the Hastings Daily Tribune in Nebraska, and news director for WCBN-FM in Michigan. Dave, a native ...

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