Robbins Faces Big Rate Hikes
Water and sewer rates are on the rise in Robbins.
The town commissioners on Thursday night asked Town Manager Brant Sikes to advertise a public meeting so they can explain why water and sewer charges will increase by 50 percent.
The only question is whether they go up a quarter to start with, then go up again two months later.
Robbins must bring the cost of town services to a balance with the cost of providing them. If it doesn't, state agencies will set the rates and could possibly turn the utility plants to a third party.
"At the current rates, we will run out of cash before it its self-sufficient," Sikes said during the meeting. "The situation in our enterprise fund is extremely crucial."
Sikes suspects illegal activities. His investigations have already turned up one customer whose water was turned off for nonpayment but who ran a line next door. The director of public works discovered it by turning the meter off, then opening an outside faucet. Water flowed freely, so he knew something was amiss.
No criminal complaint was lodged, because three months of stolen water were paid for along with penalty and reconnection fees.
Sikes also said he suspects there are some illegal wells on the system,.
"Our January rate study revealed unrealistically low use of metered water," he said. "There are people living in residences using less than 10 gallons a day. That is impossible. One shower will use between 20 and 40 gallons. Eighty-five of our accounts use less than 1,000 gallons a month."
The town has to sell more water or charge more for it, or both -- and changes must take place right away. The end has been staved off by very conservative operations at every level, Sikes said.
"Our employees have done a miraculous job in trying to get us into the black," Sikes said. "If you go by the numbers, we stretched a nine-month demise to two or three years."
Now the rates absolutely have to go up.
"Overall, we need to go up by 50 percent," he said. "You could do it all at once or in two stages."
Commissioner Lynn Loy proposed calling a public meeting to explain the need. Sikes hopes to get one or more state officials to attend to explain the problem in a way residents will understand.
"The public needs to know why we have to do this," he said. "They need to know now. Let them know what's coming."
Ironically, the town dumps 20,000 gallons a day. Robbins has to do that to maintain required chlorine levels in long lines over which not enough moves to keep that water in compliance. Water that stands too long -- whether in pipes or tanks -- loses its protection, becomes "stale" water. Chlorine will not remain in solution once the temperature rises above a certain point.
"This is something we need to do to save the town," Mayor Theron Bell said.
Robbins will call that public meeting as soon as possible.
"We need that first increase ASAP," Sikes said. "We also need the second increase ASAP. The amount of that next one can be based on a study. Every leak we fix could drop it, but it will probably have to be another 25 percent (of present rates)."
The town is seeking a grant to provide new radio-read meters for as many as half the town customers, and the greater accuracy could keep rates from going as high as Sikes is projecting now.
Contact John Chappell at 783-5841 or by e-mail at jchappell@t hepilot.com.
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