Rock Hill budget plan increases city utility rates

For another budget year, Rock Hill utility customers are faced with an increase in their monthly bills.

The 2015-16 budget plan, unveiled to the City Council at a special workshop session Thursday, includes a 5 percent increase in Rock Hill’s electric rate, on top of a 1 percent increase in both the water and wastewater rates charged to city customers.

If passed, this budget’s electricity increase will be the 13th in a row and the third highest single-year electric increase in that time frame, after 6 percent increases in both fiscal years 2014 and 2015.

The average residential utility customer would see his or her monthly bill rise by $6.80 beginning in July.

City officials say the increase is necessary to meet increasing costs passed on from the Piedmont Municipal Power Agency, the electricity provider for Rock Hill and nine other Upstate cities.

“For years, we ate that expense and didn’t pass that along to customers,” Deputy City Manager Jimmy Bagley told the workshop. “By 2003 (the first year the city passed an electric rate increase), we had no choice ... there was no room to do that anymore.”

Going back to 1994, Rock Hill has absorbed $15.9 million in budgeted PMPA increases annually, according to figures in the utility rate presentation.

A breakdown notes that 4.5 percent of next year’s increase will go toward purchased power from PMPA, while the remaining 0.5 percent will go to fund increasing costs in the city’s electric operations due to growth in the number of city customers and the demand they place on the power grid.

“The 0.5 percent will be used to cover increases across the board, including residential, commercial and industrial growth,” said City Manager David Vehaun.

Planned improvements include the addition of new substations to the city’s grid and reliability improvements to reduce and limit the scope of power outages.

“Traditionally, if a drunk driver hits a pole and knocks out the power lines, everybody in that substation will see it,” Bagley said. Planned improvements should keep more lights on.

Water rate increases will go toward similar improvements to the city’s capacity. A 1 percent increase in wastewater payments now will fund an expansion of the city’s wastewater treatment plant, and by 2020 could contribute to construction of a second wastewater plant if the costs and demand justify it, Vehaun said.

After this year’s budget, city officials hope to limit future increases. The 2016-17 budget includes a provisional electric rate increase of 1.8 percent, but Vehaun says Rock Hill and other PMPA cities are prepared to oppose more increases by the power agency.

“Until now, rate increases have been entirely related to the full cost of the PMPA running such big expenses,” Vehaun said. “Now the PMPA has met its full cost, and if it’s met its full cost, what is another increase for?”

The good news for city residents is in what the proposed budget does not include. Unlike last year, this budget includes no rise in stormwater fees, and taxpayers will escape any increase in property taxes or sanitation fees.

Bristow Marchant •  803-329-4062

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