Isle of Wight proposes water rate increase for 2024-25

Published 6:55 pm Wednesday, April 17, 2024

In addition to a 5-cent real estate tax rate increase, Isle of Wight County is proposing a roughly 5% hike of its water rate come the July 1 start of the 2024-25 fiscal year.

Isle of Wight presently charges its water users a $33.14 bimonthly meter fee plus $12.35 per 1,000 gallons. The new rate would be $12.96.

The town of Smithfield is tentatively planning its own 25-cent water rate increase. The town’s rate is presently $6.75 per 1,000 gallons plus an $11.47 meter fee, and would remain well below the county’s, at $7, were the 25-cent increase to be adopted.

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Town Manager Michael Stallings, at a March 25 Town Council committee meeting, said Smithfield’s proposed increase is tied to the rising cost of chemicals and equipment used at the town’s reverse osmosis water treatment plant on South Church Street.

The county’s proposed increase, according to County Administrator Randy Keaton, is intended to absorb a cost increase from the Western Tidewater Water Authority, which supplies Isle of Wight with most of the drinking water it resells to county residents.

According to Keaton, the WTWA currently charges Isle of Wight $7.19 per 1,000 gallons and is proposing to increase that fee by 4.7% to $7.53 come July 1.

The consumer rate hike, if adopted, would be the third annual 5% increase in the county’s water rate since 2022 and the fourth since 2018.

The WTWA, formed from Isle of Wight and Suffolk in 2000, inked a $146 million agreement with Norfolk in 2009 to purchase up to 3 million gallons per day of surface water from the city starting in 2013, with the amount rising to just over 15 million gallons per day by 2038.

Per the agreement, Isle of Wight is to receive a one-fourth share, or 2 million gallons per day, of WTWA’s 8 million gallon per day allotment for 2024, with the remainder going to Suffolk. Based on last year’s usage, Isle of Wight expects to use only 68% or 1.32 million gallons, but is obligated to pay for the full amount.

The cost of Isle of Wight’s unused share of Norfolk water, estimated at just over $756,000 for 2024, isn’t the sole culprit driving up the county’s water rates annually, according to Keaton. The single largest expense in this year’s public utilities budget, Keaton said, is debt payments, at $2.6 million. A contract with Suffolk, which supplies some of its own water to the WTWA separate from the gallons purchased from Norfolk, is budgeted at $1.9 million. The Norfolk contract, at $1.3 million, accounts for 10.4% of the $12.5 million in budgeted utilities fund expenses for 2024-25, Keaton said.

A public hearing on the county’s $108.9 million proposed budget and associated tax rates and fees is set for the county supervisors’ 6 p.m. meeting on April 18 in the General District courtroom at the Young-Laine courthouse rather than the regular boardroom.

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated there had been five water rate increases since 2018.