Kingsport has a water rate problem.
A local government consulting firm said it’s so bad that the consultants had never seen anything like it.
“This is one of the more, truthfully, one of the most complicated rate structures we’ve seen,” said Delaney Ridgely, a consultant with Raftelis, a consulting firm for local governments and utilities.
Ridgley made her comments during a presentation to the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday.
During the presentation, the firm proposed that the city increase sewer and water rates due to flat revenues and less consumption.
Ridgley also proposed that the city revamp its water rate structure entirely and offered a solution that she said would me more fair and equitable for all existing water customers.
“So, you’re going to fix this?” Alderman Betsy Cooper asked during the meeting.
“That’s right,” Kingsport Deputy Manager Ryan McReynolds replied.
The proposed water rate changes come after the city has had problems with billing over the past several months. City officials said that was due to failing water meters across the customer base.
Those meters are currently being replaced, but for the future, there could be changes to the structure.
Ridgley said there are currently minimum charges by meter size and variations from inside the city and outside the city for customers.
“Is this uncommon what you described?” Kingsport Mayor Pat Shull asked.
Ridgley said minimum charges were not uncommon, but to have it also looped in with meter size is. She said having varying rates from inside and outside cities is also uncommon.
City officials said the variation in the rates historically came from the city taking over smaller water utilities throughout the area. The variation in rates between city residents and non city residents was due to it being more complicated to pump water to rural areas.
Ridgley said the new rates would come under a standard differential rate for all customers. The minimum 2,000 gallons a month charge would also go away.
It would be phased in, though, with customers getting 1,500 gallons free of charge for the next two years then going to a “pure charge” by year three.
The rates would also be easy enough that they could be put on the city’s website and advertised.
She said this would be fair to everyone.
“We’re only charging people for what they are using,” she said.
The Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen is set to discuss the water and sewer rates Monday as part of its budget hearings. The BMA will then vote on the 2022-2023 fiscal year budget in June. The fiscal year starts on July 1.