Are water bills in Belmont higher than in other municipalities? That’s a question I’ve been getting a lot lately, so I decided to do some research and find out!
Our friends at the UNC School of Government have a pretty robust water and sewer rate dashboard that lets you compare rates in Belmont with every other municipality in the state. You can even select different comparison groups to compare Belmont to various different collections of cities: cities within the same watershed, cities of the same size, cities within different distances, etc. If you really want to see how we compare to other cities, this is a great tool.
So, I set Belmont as my main city and then set the comparison group to all cities/towns within 25 miles of Belmont. Here is the resulting dashboard:
With 5000 gallons of usage, the combined (monthly) water/sewer bill for a Belmont resident is $81.24 (note that this is based on the “In City” rate – the “Out of City” rate is roughly double this). This is above the average rate of $74.92 for municipalities within 25 miles of ours (including Charlotte, Mount Holly, Gastonia, etc.). The darkest shade of green on the Bill Comparison dial represents the range of rates for the middle 50% of municipalities – and you can see that we fall just outside the high end of that range. So, our rates aren’t the highest in the area, but they are higher than more than half of the surrounding towns/cities.
Changes Coming to Sewer Service
Something else to keep an eye on is the pending interlocal agreement between Belmont and the City of Charlotte that would have Belmont pump its wastewater under the Catawba to be treated by Charlotte Water at a new wastewater treatment plant in Charlotte. It will be interesting to see what impact that has on rates, as Belmont will need to buy additional sewage treatment capacity from Charlotte as we continue to grow.
As part of the agreement, Belmont will pay $9.3 million (and up to $9.6 million) to access the new treatment plant in Charlotte in order to avoid paying approximately $14.3 million to upgrade Belmont’s existing plant (the cost of a brand new plant would be considerably higher). Of course, once the plant comes online, the agreement gives Charlotte the ability to set rates for sewer treatment (which presumably would be passed on to Belmont sewer customers).
Right now, Charlotte sewer rates are pretty close to Belmont’s – but it would be valuable to see a little more information provided around rate projections for Belmont residents to allow some comparisons on the impact to household bills both with and without this project. Will we see any significant change in rates as a result of this project (versus what they otherwise would have been)?
A regional partnership like this isn’t necessarily a bad thing (as there some economies of scale to be gained), but we should be considering the impacts on residents (i.e. ratepayers) before engaging in projects like this (especially since this particular agreement doesn’t sunset for 99 years). The city is supposed to be preparing some estimates in advance of a discussion of this at next week’s council meeting, which unfortunately means there likely won’t be much time to review them before there’s a formal vote. It will be interesting to see what they come up with.