KFP: Kinston utilities bill sent back to committee

Mayor says city could lose $1 million in revenue if water and sewer rates equalized

by David Anderson

Kinston officials breathed a brief sigh of relief this week as a bill, which city leaders feared could cause a major increase in municipal utility bills if passed, went back into committee.

Members of the N.C. House were scheduled to debate and vote on Senate Bill 472 on Monday evening, but Rep. Tim Moore, R-Cleveland — who co-chairs the House Rules Committee with SB472 supporter Rep. Stephen LaRoque, R-Lenoir — made a motion at the beginning of Monday’s session for the bill to “be removed from the calendar and referred to the committee on rules.”

LaRoque could not be reached for comment Tuesday, as the House was in session, but he has said in the past he was “trying to find a way to bring equality to the customers” by creating equal access to Kinston utilities for customers living inside and outside the city limits.

That would be accomplished through SB 472, a local bill. If passed, the changes would take effect in 2013

“They’re a monopoly,” LaRoque said of the city. “These people (outside the city) cannot drill wells for their consumption.”

Kinston Mayor B.J. Murphy has taken to local airwaves and Twitter in recent days to explain why the city and its water and sewer customers would be harmed if SB 472 were to be passed.

He noted on his Twitter feed that Smithfield Foods and Sanderson Farms, which operate facilities in the U.S. 70 West Industrial Park, could see their respective annual utility bills increase by $30,000 and $90,000.

Earlier this year, as Kinston officials discussed the budget for the 2013 fiscal year, City Manager Tony Sears told City Council members the water and wastewater rates could increase by more than 10 percent to make up the difference by no longer being able to charge outside customers a higher rate.

“Eighty-four percent of rate structures from cities across the state of North Carolina charge more for outside customers,” Murphy said Tuesday. “This is not unique to Kinston.”

The higher rate is necessary because of the need to maintain infrastructure outside the city, built decades ago because no other water or sewer infrastructure existed at the time.

“The city of Kinston does not actively pursue services outside the city limits,” Murphy said. “The outside services we have are because we were asked to provide, or purchase the infrastructure, which we have improved over the last 30 years.”

The mayor said the bill should either be killed, or legislators should seek a statewide solution to the issue of outside and inside utility rates.

“One thing I keep hearing is, ‘Let’s have fair rates; let’s have equal rates,’ ” he said. “There is an added cost for outside customers.”

 

David Anderson can be reached at 252-559-1077 or danderson@freedomenc.com. Follow him on Twitter at DavidFreePress.