By REID TUCKER
The Paxton Town Council approved changes to the city’s water and sewer rate at a regularly scheduled June meeting of near record-breaking swiftness.
At just under 13 and half minutes the meeting was unofficially declared to be the second shortest in the Town Council’s history by Councilman Bobby Kemp. Although the meeting didn’t run long, the Council nevertheless had time to hear the second reading of proposed City Ordinance 09-01, designed to amend Paxton’s almost two-decade-old water and sewer rate pricing structure. When put to the vote, the new ordinance was met with unanimous approval.
The impetus behind the decision to change the rate plan was to alleviate the burden on the city to cover its costs, said Councilman Heyward Thomas.
“We weren’t able to make our bond payment on the sewer system without having to take money from other departments,” Thomas said. “It gets harder and harder each month to come up with the money that way. That’s really not the best way to run a city.”
The old pricing structure for water and sewer rates, last altered in 2006, charged customers within the city limits a base rate of $8.95 per month for use of the city’s water, which included allowances for up to 2000 gallons of usage. Although the monthly rate was lowered by almost $4 to $5.05 per month under the new ordinance, there is no water allowance, meaning customers will now pay a set amount per 1,000 gallons of water used each month within a 5,000-gallon range up to 20,000 gallons and beyond.
Sewer rates were established along similar lines with a baseline monthly fee of $17 for single-family residential users within the city limits. A 12,000-gallon allowance is in place at the baseline rate, and an additional $2 will be charged per every subsequent 1000 gallons of water used.
These new rates became effective immediately following the ordinance’s adoption, but after Oct. 1, 2009, the base rate for water will rise to $7.40 in keeping with adjustments for inflation.
Even though the rate plan has been substantially altered, Thomas said that the bills of those who use less water, and indeed the bills of most residents on the city’s water grid, would actually be less under the new pricing structure. Essentially, Thomas said, the idea was to make residents who used more water pay more for it, while at the same time protecting low-income families and seniors from having to shoulder more of the burden. For this reason, the ordinance provides for a flat rate charge (which includes a 2,000-gallon monthly water allowance) of $10.95 available to residents 55 or older.
“[The Town Council was] most concerned about those with limited incomes and senior citizens, since they’re most likely to take the worst hit when prices go up,” Thomas said. “We didn’t want to see them suffer.”
The Council was also careful to retain its longstanding authority to waive a one-time payment of water services pending its majority approval, though Kemp said that from now on, the Council would be stricter in adhering to this one-time aspect of the waivers.
In spite of the overall increase in price, Paxton will still maintain its status as the Walton County municipality with the lowest cost for water and sewer usage said Councilman Bill McRae.
“For 20 years [the water and sewer rate] didn’t go up, not even to adjust for inflation,” McRae said. “Now we’re having to play catch-up. However, Paxton residents will still have the cheapest water bills in the county in terms of overall cost.”
For comparison, DeFuniak Springs charges customers a base rate of $11.14 monthly for water and $19.15 for sewer usage – 120 percent and 13 percent higher, respectively, than Paxton’s base rates for the same services.
In keeping with the meeting’s apparent theme of settling city water and sewer issues, the Council took the opportunity to fix new hours for the city’s waterworks and grounds keeping staff. Employees of those departments will now be split between working Monday through Thursday, or alternatively, Tuesday through Friday, with workdays lasting 10 hours rather than the usual eight. Mayor Mark Warren said this would allow more employees to remain on duty until at least 5 p.m., which helps out customers by allowing them to avoid paying a $25 after hours fee if service work is required.
“I feel like [the Town Council] has come up with a pretty good plan for everyone involved,” Warren said.