LUMBERTON — It could cost Robeson County residents more to use county water beginning July 1.
County Manager Ricky Harris said Friday that the cost of installing and maintaining water lines and storage tanks has increased, forcing county officials to at least consider increasing the rates for both residential and commercial customers.
“It will definitely be looked at during budget time,” Harris said. “The commissioners won’t like it, but it’s something that has to be looked at.”
A hint that county water rates might increase surfaced last week during the county’s annual three-day retreat. Al Grimsley, the county’s public works director, told the commissioners that the cost of operating his department is increasing.
“Everything, all of our materials, have increased by 13 percent,” he said.
According to Grimsley, all of the counties surrounding Robeson charge their water customers higher residential and commercial rates. He said many counties charge out-of-county users double for water.
At present, Grimsley said, out-of-county users of Robeson’s water system — including many customers in southern Cumberland County — pay the same rates as in-county customers with an additional $4 monthly surcharge.
Currently, Robeson charges residential customers $24.05 per 5,000 gallons and commercial customers $896.50 for 500,000 gallons. Rates in surrounding counties for residential customers per 5,000 gallons, and commercial customers per an average of 500,000 gallons include: Hoke: $26.5o residential, $1,762 commercial; Bladen: $29.40 residential, $908.65 commercial; Columbus: $37 residential, $2,017 commercial.
Grimsley warned the commissioners that the county water system must be monitored closely to ensure that it continues to operate economically.
“If we don’t keep our eyes on it, our costs may overtake us,” the director said.
Grimsley did not recommend that rates be raised immediately. He told the board that he is in the process of conducting a study to determine if the current rates are meeting the costs of operating the system. He said he would present the commissioners with the results of the study when they are working on the 2013-14 fiscal budget.
The commissioners will hold their regular monthly meeting Monday, but the agenda is light in the wake of the three-day retreat that ended Friday.
The board is expected to make appointments to the Board of Equalization and Review and the Southeastern Economic Development Commission. Also, the commissioners are scheduled to hold a closed session.
The meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the county administration building on North Elm Street.