There is some bad news and good news for customers of Volusia County’s water and sewer systems.
The bad news is the rates are going up this month. The good news is the charges are not rising as fast as they normally would. In a rather rare instance of restraint in a time of inflation, the County Council last month suspended a resolution that provides for automatic annual increases in utility rates.
That resolution, passed some 25 years ago, mandates a yearly increase in the water and sewer charges equal to the official rate of inflation, known as the consumer price index, plus 1 percent. For the calendar year 2023, the rate of increase, unless changed by the council, would be 10.06 percent. However, had the council not intervened and set the rate of increase at 4.95 percent.
With no debate or comment, the County Council Dec. 20 gave a sort of Christmas present to those connected to the county’s water and sewer systems. The rate adjustment was part of the consent agenda for the council’s final meeting of 2022. The consent agenda is that portion of the council’s order of business that contains, generally speaking, noncontroversial, routine or housekeeping items that may be passed as a whole or in large part, unless a council member asks to “pull” or single out an item for discussion or special attention.
Thus, the lesser increase, 4.95 percent, is in effect, and it will show up in the January utility bills. The resolution that suspends the automatic-rate-increase resolution provides only a “one-time” rate adjustment “for Calendar Year 2023 only.”
“This resolution shall take effect on January 1, 2023, and sunset on December 31, 2023,” the text reads.
Why is the rate relief coming now? County officials cite cost savings and “efficiencies achieved in recent years through effective asset management, advanced metering infrastructure, equipment standardization, and treatment plant consolidations.” The reduction in the utilities’ operating costs, according to a county memorandum, comes despite “cost increases in supplier materials, equipment, fuel, chemicals, electricity and labor.”
The reasons for the reduction in the annual increase of the county’s utility rates were further spelled out in an email response to a query from The Beacon.
The “effective asset management,” cited above, refers to “preventive maintenance & repairs of equipment, to maximize its useful life,” wrote Community Information Director Kevin Captain.
Captain cited information provided by Water Resources and Utilities Director Michael Ulrich.
The standardization of equipment, Captain noted, “has helped reduce parts & supply lists and prevents having excessive inventory on hand.” Moreover, Captain wrote, “utility service boundary realignments with neighboring cities … avoid potential overlap of future infrastructure and service.”
Not least, certain capital projects have resulted in the consolidation of operations and the closing of some facilities, including a wastewater treatment plant in Orange City and the shifting of the sewage formerly treated at that plant to the county’s Southwest Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant in DeBary. On a related note, the county may close its wastewater-treatment plant along Wolf Pack Run near Deltona High School after completion of the $40-million expansion of the Southwest facility in DeBary.
On the east side of the county, four wastewater treatment facilities in the North Peninsula area have been shut down.
It is significant to note that all utility rates are not created equal. The average monthly water bill in West Volusia in 2022 was $28.04, and if the increase of CPI plus 1 percent were imposed for 2023, that monthly water bill would be $30.86. With the lower 4.95 percent, that average water bill will be $29.43.
For the year that recently ended, the average monthly bill in East Volusia was $38.59. The CPI-plus-1 percent increase would push the monthly charge for water to $42.58. The lesser increase of 4.95 percent results in a bill of $40.61.
If sewer charges are added, the bills on both sides of the county rise markedly.
Volusia County’s Water Resources and Utilities serves approximately 40,000 people, which is equal to about 7 percent of the county’s population. The county’s utilities operate 16 water- and wastewater-treatment facilities and have more than 500 miles of pipes transmitting water, sewage and wastewater.