The majority of the Holley-Navarre Water System board of directors approved a 17.5-percent rate increase for customers starting May 1.
Bien May, board president, said the action was recommended by the organization’s engineering staff and will equate to a roughly $12 per month increase for the average customer who uses sewer service and consumes 7,000 gallons of water per month.
“I oppose the rate increase,” said James Calkins, HNWS vice president, at Tuesday night’s board meeting.
Calkins said he thinks the organization needs to “tighten its belt” instead of increasing rates.
According to Phil Phillips, who coordinates engineering services for HNWS, the planned improvements will address some major “problems” the organization is facing.
“The first big problem is we have a wastewater treatment plant capable of treating 3 million gallons a day,” Phillips said, noting HNWS only has the capacity to discharge just over half of that volume. “So if we don’t find another place to put our treated effluent we will have to stop selling sewer taps.”
Phillips said $11 million of the total $21 million in improvement costs will be used to address the issue by building a pipeline to a location on Eglin Air Force Base property where large rapid infiltration basins will be constructed. “That project will take care of our treated effluent needs for our lifetime,” he said.
Additionally, roughly $6 million will be used to build a large ground storage tank and booster station to ensure all customers have adequate flow and $1.8 million is planned to expand the HNWS office and warehouse space. Phillips said the remainder of costs will be for other improvements such as force main and water line upgrades.
“We’re making these improvements to handle the growth in our community,” said HNWS Executive Director Billy Sublett.
Former board president Daryl Lynchard also opposed the increase and asked the board to wait until the next regular meeting to address the matter in order to give customers a better opportunity to speak out about the issue. “I think we’re kind of taking advantage of our customers. I owe it to them,” he said.
Other directors said the move was necessary to implement a five-year capital improvement plan.
Former HNWS board member Will Goulet spoke in opposition to the increase. “I know you guys have a daunting task in front of you,” he said, seeking reassurance another increase wouldn’t be implemented.
Lynchard pointed out that last year Fairpoint Regional Utility System had increased the rate HNWS pays for water from FRUS wells in East Milton and asked if that might spur an additional rate hike.
HNWS General Manager Paul Gardner said further increases were “not foreseen.”