052319 Ascension water rates

GONZALES — More than 3,300 residential and business water customers in and around the city of Donaldsonville will see their rates go up June 1.

After months of discussion and a public hearing last week, the Ascension Parish Council adopted new water rates for the customers of the old Peoples Water Co. system that serves primarily the city of Donaldsonville. 

The changes, which affect both the base and the usage rates for residential, commercial and industrial customers, come more than two years after parish government bought the private water company for $5.9 million with the promise then that rates would be going up.

Parish officials have said they need the increase to pay for the loan portion of $17.5 million that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has awarded the parish to upgrade the system's meters, distribution lines and water plant and to link up its water supply to an surrounding rural parish water system.

The parish bought the old Peoples Water system, which dates from the 1920s, in a state of age and ill-repair, a once-confidential parish report showed. A portion of the USDA month is a grant.

Since the purchase, parish officials have battled leaks, suffered a loss of experience that contributed to water shortages in a freeze in January 2018 and have tried to figure out mysterious unaccounted for water use that officials have since attributed to ancient household water meters undercounting water use.

Parish officials say that they have since gotten a handle on the system and are making clean water but need the money for the upgrades.

Unlike commercial and industrial customers who will pay the full increase June 1, the system's nearly 2,900 residential customers will see a phased-in increase. Only a change in the base rate takes effect June 1.

The rate will rise from $17.02 for the first 3,000 gallons of water used per month to $18.60 for the first 2,000 gallons used per month. For a household using 6,000 gallons per month, the initial phase of the increase will mean a 21% boost on the monthly bill, or an increase of $6.94.

Once the full residential rate increase takes effect Jan. 1, the usage rates also increase. Customers using 6,000 gallons per month will see the remainder of the 39% increase. The total bill will go up by $12.86 per month, from $33.10 to $45.95.

Parish officials have said they are phasing in the residential increases to allow customers to fix household leaks.

In a public hearing last week, city residents aired concerns about how the rate increases would affect the city's poor and elderly who are on fixed incomes.

Parish officials suggested at the time that minimum users would only see around a $1 per month increase but would look at ideas for aid.

In fact, a customer who currently uses the maximum amount in the base rate, 3,000 gallons per month, would pay an extra $8.42 per month, a larger increase on a percentage basis than customers who use more water. 

The new increase will alter the structure of the base rate so that the rate increases overall, up from $17.02 to $18.60 per month, but also applies that higher rate to 1,000 fewer gallons of water use.

The total amount of water use allowed in the base rate drops from the first 3,000 gallons to the first 2,000 gallons.

That means customers who use 3,000 gallons per month and might never have paid the usage rate in the past will now be paying the usage rate of $6.84 on the last 1,000 gallons of water use in addition to the higher base rate. Their total bill will rise from $17.02 to $25.44.

The council adopted the rate increases without debate or opposition May 16 in Gonzales in the last minutes of a three and a half-hour meeting. 

Follow David J. Mitchell on Twitter, @NewsieDave.