CLAYTON — Utilities company Aqua America Inc. wants to raise its rates again, .and the more than 1,600 water and sewer customers in Flowers Plantation would feel the pinch.
If the N.C. Utilities Commission says yes, the average monthly water and sewer bill will increase 11.25 percent. The Utilities Commission last said yes to an increase in 2011, approving a 5.3-percent hike when the company had asked for 19.2.
In an email, Flowers Plantation developer Becky Flowers has asked for an explanation of the rate-hike request. More than half of Aqua’s customers in Johnston County are in Flowers Plantation.
Specifically, Flowers wants Aqua to explain why its rates are so much higher than those charged by Johnston County and the Town of Clayton.
In Flowers Plantation, the average water and sewer bill is $91.82 a month. In the county, it’s $69.88; in Clayton, $53.37.
Tom Roberts is president of Aqua North Carolina. “Part of our increase is to start recovering our investment in plant and pipe and meters – the capital investment in infrastructure – and part of it is to better reflect current operating expenses,” he said.
In Flowers Plantation, Aqua charges its customers a flat sewer rate of $65.07 a month. If the Utilities Commission grants the full rate-hike request, the monthly charge would climb to $75.28.
In her email, Flowers asked Aqua why it bases its flat sewer rate on assumed usage of gallons daily. That’s well above what the average household uses. She suggested the company base its flat rate on a more realistic useage amount.
Roberts said any change would make little difference. “It doesn’t matter where the gallons-per-day base is,” he said. “There’s not a lot of difference in trading 100 gallons per day versus 240 gallons since it’s a flat rate.”
Aqua buys its water wholesale from Johnston County, then adds certain fees and taxes, Roberts said. That pay structure has been in place for the past three years, he said.
Flowers also said Aqua needs to devote more attention to its sewage-treatment plant, especially given the high rate it charges customers. “The plant smells extremely unpleasant 50 percent of the time,” she wrote in her email.
Roberts said it would be unusual for the plant to smell bad for extended periods. But the company doesn’t cap its treatment plants and doesn’t plan to, he said.