39% jump in water rates for Little Rock City Water Consumers

KELLY YOUNG
ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE


The North Little Rock Water Commission decided Thursday to fight Little Rock's plan to make North Little Rock pay 39 percent more for water in 2000.
    The proposed rate increase means North Little Rock, which resells the water to its residents, could have a bill of $6.1 million in 2000, $1.7 million more than this year.
    North Little Rock water officials hope to avert that by petitioning the Little Rock Board of Directors for a lower rate increase.
    On Thursday, the North Little Rock commission also approved a tentative Water Department budget for 2000, based on Little Rock keeping North Little Rock's overall water bill the same.
    The Water Commission unanimously recommended a 22 percent increase in water rates for 2000 to cover operating and maintenance expenses, additional depreciation, normal construction and the first phase of a master construction plan for water distribution.
    If approved by the City Council, a typical North Little Rock customer -- based on a monthly water usage of 7,480 gallons -- could see his monthly water bill increase from $12.56 to $15.32 next year. Outside the city, a typical customer's monthly bills could go from $18.84 to $22.98.
    The recommendation is to go before the North Little Rock City Council on Nov. 8. But the council probably will not vote on it until a later session.
    Meanwhile, North Little Rock water officials plan to protest Little Rock's rate increase at a public hearing Tuesday by the Little Rock Board of Directors. Little Rock's proposed rate increase is its first since 1985.
    North Little Rock Mayor Patrick Henry Hays and the Water Commission also sent a memo to the Little Rock city directors, detailing the history of the water relationship between the two cities and opposing the 39 percent increase.
    During the past five years, the memo states, the North Little Rock Water Department has purchased between 36 and 37 percent of Little Rock's total water sales volume. The memo says that revenue to Little Rock funded from 38 to 41 percent of Little Rock's total operation and maintenance expenses.
    If the Little Rock board adopts the rates proposed by the Little Rock Water Works, the memo says, the North Little Rock system, buying the same percentage of water, will be paying 46 percent of Little Rock's operation and maintenance expense in 2000.
    Under the proposed rate structure, "North Little Rock is subsidizing the entire rate structure of the Little Rock Waterworks south of the Arkansas River," the memo says.
    If Little Rock increases the water rates charged to North Little Rock by 39 percent, as recommended, North Little Rock will consider raising rates to its own customers by 37 percent, instead of 22 percent.
    Under this increase, a typical North Little Rock residential customer would pay $17.21 a month. Outside the city limits, the same person would pay $25.81.
    The North Little Rock City Council also looked at water issues during its meeting Monday night.
    Alderman Leonard Spinelli entered a resolution urging the Little Rock Board of Directors not to adopt the water rates recommended by the Little Rock Water Commission. The resolution, which was not adopted because it was entered too late, urges Little Rock to stick with its traditional method of basing rates on quantity of water delivered.
    The Little Rock Water Commission is recommending a "cost-of-service" plan that bases rates on the cost of serving different classes of customers, such as industrial, residential and commercial.
    North Little Rock aldermen were not pleased at the prospect of raising rates.
    "Mayor, this would put a bitter pill in my mouth, I tell you," Spinelli said.
    Officials said they realize that they cannot depend on Little Rock for their water forever.
    "Residents north of the [Arkansas] River will pay for a new water supply," said Fred Glover, manager of the North Little Rock Water Department.
   

This article was published on Friday, October 29, 1999