The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday January 19th

Why are OWASA rates higher than Raleigh and Durham?

<p>OWASA workers monitor the amount of water flowing in and out of Chapel Hill during the Feb. 2017 water shortage.</p>
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OWASA workers monitor the amount of water flowing in and out of Chapel Hill during the Feb. 2017 water shortage.


Chapel Hill and Carrboro residents pay an average of around $19 more for water and sewage per month than Durham and Raleigh. 

“Affordability of our services is a big thing for us here at OWASA,” said Stephen Winters, director of finance and customer service at Orange County Water and Sewer Authority. “It’s something that we are conscious of and focused on.” 

The average Chapel Hill-Carrboro single-family residence pays $83.53 for 5,000 gallons of water. 

The UNC Environmental Finance Center reports OWASA customers spend 1.61 percent of the median household income. Raleigh and Durham residents spend 1.49 percent and 1.41 percent of the median household income, respectively. 

While officials give no specific reason concerning why OWASA rates are higher than those in Raleigh and Durham, Ed Buchan, a senior utilities analyst for the City of Raleigh, said the City of Raleigh Public Utilities Department has an advantage because of the number of people it serves. Since Raleigh has a more dense population, they can spread the price of water and sewage expenses over more people.

OWASA serves about 83,000 customers while the City of Raleigh Public Utilities Department serves about 522,000 customers. Both organizations must account for operating wages as well repair costs.

“It’s a balancing act between affordability and potentially devastating infrastructure issues,” Buchan said. 

Raleigh also charges a lower “conservation signal”, an increased rate for every 1,000 gallons used above 10,000 gallons per month, than OWASA. The OWASA conservation signal is $17.42.

OWASA is an enterprise separate from the Chapel Hill and Carrboro town governments. It receives no funding from taxes. The state prohibits OWASA from giving subsidies or discounting their services for any customers. 

Because of this, OWASA created the Affordability Outreach Program and Care to Share to aid low-income residents in paying for their bills. The Affordability Outreach Program teaches residents how they can conserve water to lower their bills. Care to Share allows OWASA customers to add on to their own utility bills or donate to help low-income residents that cannot afford their utility bills. Care to Share is administered by the Inter-Faith Council for Social Services, which is allowed to donate to struggling OWASA customers. 

Winters said OWASA has not increased rates since October of 2011. He said an increase in expenditures would cause an increase in rates.

“One of the reasons why we’ve been able to not have a rate increase for six years is because we are very diligent about trying to keep our costs at the lowest we can keep them,” Winters said.

An accidental increase in fluoride in the water earlier this year coincided with a water main break in Chapel Hill. Even with unforeseen costs of the two incidents, OWASA did not raise rates because of emergency reserves. 

@maringwolf

city@dailytarheel.com

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