Rain ruining revenue in Weaver, officials say
by Brian Anderson
banderson@annistonstar.com
Aug 14, 2013 | 3590 views |  0 comments | 47 47 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Weaver City employee Walter Hendon holds two water meters used by the city. Photo by Stephen Gross.
Weaver City employee Walter Hendon holds two water meters used by the city. Photo by Stephen Gross.
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WEAVER — Rain is washing away Weaver’s revenue.

Despite raising water rates for residents by 2 percent in November, Weaver’s City Council reported Tuesday night that the monthly average revenue from water sales is down 13 percent from the previous fiscal year. The biggest culprit, said Public Works Director Joey Conger, is all the precipitation.

“We’re two feet above average on rainfall this year,” Conger said. “People don’t need as much water.”

Weaver City Clerk Teresa Dishman said with two months to go in the fiscal year, revenue from water rates in Weaver is about $220,000 shy of the $820,000 the city received in all of 2012.

“People aren’t doing the typical summer activities,” Weaver Mayor Wayne Willis said. “They’re not washing the car, or watering the lawn and power washing the patio.”

Mother Nature has been the source of several problems for the city this year, Willis said, including overfilling drainage pipes, wreaking havoc on the city’s deteriorating roads and causing overgrowth that has to be trimmed away from the Chief Ladiga bicycle trail.

Weaver isn’t the only city getting hit hard by all the rain. Rodney Owens, the assistant general manager of the Anniston Water Works and Sewer Board, said water usage is down 12 percent this year, although a 6 percent increase in water rates in January helped offset most of the revenue loss.

“That’s about the time we started getting hit with all the rain,” Owens said. “The good news is we raised water rates in time, but the bad news is we have to defer improving our system because we aren’t receiving additional revenue.”

Michael Rinker, the office manager for Jacksonville’s Water Works, Gas and Sewer Board, said in July and August, revenue from water usage in Jacksonville was down more than $50,000 from last year.

“Our sewer billings are based on water usage,” Rinker said. “So revenue from sewer is way down for the year as well.”

But Willis said the rain isn’t the sole problem for a decrease in water revenue in Weaver. He said it’s possible the city has lost several residents due to foreclosures in the city, although Conger said he hasn’t seen a drop in customers for the service. Another problem is city water meters, Conger said, that have become increasingly unreliable the older they get.

“A new meter has about 95 to 97 percent accuracy,” Conger said. “They get less accurate the older they are, and they error in favor of the customer.”

Typical lifespan of a water meter is anywhere from 5 to 12 years, Conger said. Most meters in Weaver date back decades.

“They cost about $45 a meter,” Conger said. “And we got about 2,500 houses. It’s a huge expense.”

No matter the reason for the decrease in revenue, it’s a big problem for Weaver. When the water rates were raised in November, Willis said, “Weaver wouldn’t last six months” without its water system.

“It’s the same thing that happens when you run a household,” Willis said. “If you’re working less hours and you’re bringing in less money, you have to find ways to cut costs somewhere.”

But cutting costs has been the source of frustration for the mayor. So far in 2013 the council has blocked four proposals to scale back expenses, including a proposed cut to overtime for city employees, scaling back pay-per-call for the volunteer firefighters, cutting pay for council members to attend meetings, and most recently, putting a one-year freeze on employee salary raises.

“For me it’s a moral dilemma because we’ve placed the burden on our residents,” Willis said about the increase on water and sanitation rates, as well as an increased sales tax in the city in the last 12 months. “Pay raises and overtime hours are a luxury in a good economy.”

But Councilman Mike Warren said city employees have had to make sacrifices, and there are few places the city can cut expenses.

“To us it sounds like he’s saying our employees get paid too much,” Warren said. “And we don’t think that.”

Although the council failed to approve cuts to overtime, Warren said, department heads at the city have tightened their belt considerably this last fiscal year and have eliminated waste from their budgets.

“I don’t think there are really any more places we can actually cut from,” Warren said. “I think we should be looking at expanding revenue through annexation and growing business.”

For now, hoping the rain lets up doesn’t look like a safe bet. According to Jessica Talley, a meteorologist with National Weather Service in Calera, Alabama’s wet summer is expected to continue well into the fall.

“For the most part the next three months are going to continue on the same pace for precipitation,” Talley said. “It doesn’t really look like there’s going to be any significant change in weather patterns.”

That won’t stop Owens, the assistant general manager at Anniston’s water board, from wishing for a little reprieve from all the rain.

“If I said we could use a dry spell I don’t think I’d get any arguments from Weaver or anybody,” Owens said. “I guess we’ll pray for it.”

Staff writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star.

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