Sevier County officially in water business

Rates to rise over several years
May. 22, 2013 @ 11:32 PM

Sevier County is officially in the business of providing water and maintaining all its own water lines, and that means new rates for its customers.

The county has completed its water purchase agreements with Sevierville, Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg and Newport utilities, allowing it to buy water from those agencies and provide it to customers in the county. That means the county is now responsible for maintaining lines and billing customers, previously the responsibility of the other utilities.

“We’ll be taking responsibility for 1,500 customers," engineer Gary McGill explained. “Our people will have a great deal more to do than they have in the past.”

The cost of running the system is about to increase, he said. Under state law, the utility has to break even — it can’t run a loss, although the state gives it time to bring its rates in line. Because of that, the Sevier County Commission adopted a plan Monday for the rate to grow incrementally for several years, something officials hope will create less of a shock to customers who were used to paying a lower rate.

Out of about 1,500 customers on county water lines so far, about 300 were already receiving water directly through lines owned and maintained by the county, and paying bills directly to the county, Sevier County Water Superintendent Roger Sims said. Their bills went up immediately after Monday’s vote. Where the county’s rate had been a $15 minimum for the first 1,000 gallons and $4.33 per $1,000 after that, it will now be set at $17 for the first 1,000 gallons and $5 for every gallon after.

That’s probably cheaper than what the remaining 1,200 had been paying, because they were paying rates set by the cities for customers whose property is outside the city limits. It could take some time for those customers to see the new rates, Sims explained, because they are in the process of changing out the water lines and the meters.

The county won’t send a notice when the rates change, he said — the customers will start getting the new bills. The new rates will be posted on the agency’s web site, and the changes will be explained to anyone who calls in confused over the issue, he said.

After the change approved this month, the rest are set to occur at the change of each fiscal year, in July. In 2015, the minimum fee will be $19 for the first 1,000 gallons and $5.25 per 1,000 additional gallons. In 2016, it will bump up to a $21 minimum and $5.50 per 1,000 gallons. In 2017, it will be $22 and $5.75 per 1,000 gallons.

Other items the county commission approved Monday included:

  • Purchase of land for a new convenience center on Newport Highway; the landlords have ended the lease on the current convenience center in the area
  • Rezoning of property at 1709 Chapman Highway from rural residential to general commercial
  • Purchase of additional property for Northview Academy by the school board
  • Amendments to the budgets of the solid waste sanitation fund, general fund, special purpose fund and public utility fund
  • Revision to the stormwater authority resolution
  • Covenants for the county’s new industrial property off Snyder Road
  • Reassign a lease from the Seymour Optimist Club to the Seymour Youth Football and Cheerleading Club

jfarrell@themountainpress.com