A Guide to Utilities Budget and Rates
My Water Services Bill
Budget and Improvements
Sprinkler and Irrigation
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Why do water rates increase?
The drinking water and wastewater system is community-owned and completely supported by ratepayers (not tax revenues).
Modest rate increases typically occur every year to:
* Maintain existing water/sewer plants, pipes and other facilities to ensure continued delivery of high-quality water/sewer services,
* Provide additional water and wastewater facilities and services to support community growth and economic opportunity; and
* Meet regulatory requirements to protect water quality.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utility Department (CMUD) invests more than $100 million annually to maintain and improve water services. Bonds (or loans) allow our community to borrow money and pay it back over decades, similar to a mortgage payment. Rate adjustments also help CMUD pay these 'mortgage payments' on completed projects that are serving the community. Paying for projects that are serving the community is more than half the annual budget for CMUD. Power, chemicals, personnel and some other equipment and charges make up the other part of the budget and most of those costs are fixed regardless of the amount of water used each year.
Annual rate increases have averaged just under 6 percent per year for the past 10 years.
CMUD identified more than $1 billion in needed construction over the next five years. These projects will require long-term financing. Because of sound fiscal management and our community's continued commitment to investing in its water/sewer system we have earned and maintained superior AAA bond ratings that provide for the lowest interest rates available. Without this AAA rating, customers would have to pay millions of additional dollars in 'debt services' each year.
The alternatives to financing long-term debt to pay for capital construction projects are:
* Increase rates sufficiently to pay cash for projects as we need them. We do this to a degree already but as you can imagine rates would go up exponentially if we chose to pay for everything this way all at once. OR
* Delay construction projects, which would eventually lower the debt burden. However, a failure to reinvest in our system would also affect the community negatively in terms of inadequate and non-maintained infrastructure. No one wants to find our community facing public health and safety challenges including inadequate fire protection and drinking water quality.
Is the need for a rate increase unexpected?
No. Each year, CMUD prepares a 10-year financial plan which includes revenue requirements and projected rate increases. Increased operating costs and debt service for construction projects drive the need for annual increases.
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How are you cutting costs?
Are budget cuts affecting service?
CMUD began budget cuts and hiring freezes during the 2007 drought. Budget cuts continue.
- Public safety (safe and sufficient drinking water, and protecting public health and the environment through effective wastewater collection and treatment) is our top concern at all times and we will not compromise that.
- Sewer spills and emergency water pipe repairs are prioritized ahead of smaller water leaks.
Since 1995, CMUD has driven down operating costs year after year by competing with the private sector, benchmarking and optimizing operations, implementing sophisticated energy management techniques, and developing an Environmental Management System that is ISO (International Standards Organization) 14001 certified. These measures have allowed rate increases to generally be kept at lower levels than financial models have predicted.
Why can't Utilities just reduce other costs instead of asking for a rate increase?
We have. Since 1995, CMUD has driven down operating costs year after year by competing with the private sector, benchmarking and optimizing operations, implementing sophisticated energy management techniques, and developing an Environmental Management System that is ISO (International Standards Organization) 14001 certified. These measures have allowed rate increases to generally be kept at lower levels than financial models have predicted.
How does Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utility Department rates compare to other drinking water providers?
Charlotte's water and sewer rates remain very competitive compared to other utilities.
A comparison of 14 cities prepared by a nationally recognized rate consultant found that Charlotte water and sewer customers pay less than all but 3 of the other cities.
Customers in cities such as Concord, Durham, Cary, Atlanta, Birmingham, and Austin, Texas pay significantly more for water and sewer than do Charlotte residents. Other comparisons with other groups of cities have found very similar trends.
There was a big rate increase during the drought because water consumption went down. The drought is over! Can't we lower the water rates?
Water consumption this year remains low compared to pre-drought usage. The water supply shortage eased , yet customers are continuing to irrigate less and/or water more efficiently using proper irrigation methods. That change along with wetter weather patterns has kept water consumption low.
CMUD encourages ongoing water conservation. Conservation is absolutely necessary for a sustainable future. Regardless of the drought situation, rate increases are necessary due to debt associated with expanding and maintaining a water and sewer system to serve Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.
What can I do to reduce my water bill? back to top
Water rates encourage water conservation and allow customers some control over how much they pay. Conservation tips are available here.
Does Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utility Department add a drought surcharge?
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utility Department did not impose a drought surcharge during the 2007-2009 drought. Council, however, did approve our recommendation for a higher than average rate increase to help recover lost revenue from mandatory water restrictions. Utilities continues to experience declined revenue from lower customer water consumption and commercial development. We anticipate recommending annual rate increases in the future as we have each year, though we likely would need lower rate increases when revenue from those sources returns.
Debt service on capital improvements drives our rates. About 61 percent of our costs are the fixed "mortgage payments" of our past and present construction projects. Utilities is funded solely through water and sewer rates, and it's critical to reinvest in our system to keep it in good working order to deliver safe drinking water and superior wastewater treatment.
When did Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utility Department start the tiered structure to encourage water conservation?
Charlotte implemented a tiered rate structure for residential and irrigation customers in 1994 that provides customers with a financial incentive to be water efficient.
Who oversees Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utility Department ?
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utility Department is a department of the City of Charlotte. The Director reports to the City Manager. All City Departments are audited annually by Budget and Evaluation Department.
City Council also oversees CMUD which includes through the Privatization and Competition Advisory Committee (PCAC) and Restructuring Government Committee.
An advisory board also oversees policies. In 1972, the city and county consolidated efforts to provide a single water & wastewater service. In 1984, CMUD completed service agreements with the towns of Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, Matthews, Mint Hill and Pineville to provide water and wastewater services. CMUD staff meets regularly with town management on water and wastewater needs.
Why does CMUD keep expanding the water and sewer system?
Growth and new development in our community has slowed, but Charlotte is still growing. The biggest need today is to increase wastewater treatment capacity. The largest treatment plant in our system exceeded 90% of its capacity in February 2010. It can take 5-8 years to plan, design, obtain permits, and build a treatment plant expansion. Economic recovery in Mecklenburg could be impaired if building restrictions became necessary because of lack of sewer treatment capacity as the real estate market begins its recovery.