By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
West Escambia Utilities customers in Atmore and the surrounding area will see a minimal increase in the cost of water and wastewater when they get their November bills.
Kenny Smith, manager of the local public utility, said this week that the price of water used for bathing, drinking and cooking and general use has increased by 10 cents per 1,000 gallons, while wastewater has gone up 8 cents per 1,000 gallons.
“The increases went into effect October 1, so customers will see the new rates on their next bill,” Smith explained. “Water will go up from $3.80 per 1,000 gallons to $3.90. Wastewater, or sewer, will increase 8 cents, from $2.98 to $3.06.”
He pointed out that most customers, especially senior citizens, won’t even see an increase because of the minimum usage allowed for each service.
“Right now, there is a $14 minimum charge for the first 3,000 gallons for people in town,” he said. “It’s $18 minimum for 3,000 gallons outside town. If a customer doesn’t use more than 3,000 gallons, that customer will see no increase. This increase won’t affect the elderly as much, since most of them don’t use all that much water.”
Smith added that the minor price hikes are a necessary evil that won’t really help WEU’s bottom line.
“It’s basically a cost-of-living thing,” he said. “The revenue it generates won’t really help us make a profit; it’s pretty much going to keep us even. We need to look at some merit raises and some cost-of-living increases for some of our employees. We may still go in the hole, but good employees are hard to find, so we want to keep the ones we have.”
The utility manager feels that a gradual increase will be much easier for most customers to swallow, especially when weighed against the probability of a larger increase being needed later on.
“There will probably be more increases in the future, and we’re going to try and stick to 10 cents,” he said. “There was no increase last year, and this increase is less than 4 percent. We’re probably going to have to do annual increases for water and wastewater, just to stay up with the cost of living. But we want to do any increases in small increments so that it won’t all come at the same time.”
Smith doesn’t anticipate any upcoming increase in the price of WEU-provided natural gas.
“As far as the price of gas, I don’t see anything happening in the near future,” he said.