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Council votes to cut rates, temporarily

Alexis Barker, News Edtior

Merry Christmas!
Just in time for Christmas, the Newcastle City Council voted to temporarily decrease water and sewer rates after continued blowback from the community when the council increased rates up to 200% for some users earlier this year. 
On Dec. 4 during the regular council meeting, Councilman Tyrel Owens reported that businesses that regularly use the same amount of water, specifically the lodging businesses, have been negatively impacted by the rate increase. 
“Their bills are still pretty significantly high,” Owens said, before suggesting that the council temporarily drop the rate per thousand gallons used to the state average of $4.60 per thousand gallons. 
The temporary rate decrease from $7 per thousand gallons, Owens said, would remain in effect until a rate analysis is complete and the council has a “good” rate to charge customers.
The council voted on Nov. 20 to engage to conduct a rate analysis for the city at a cost of about $7,045. Public Works supervisor Greg Stumpff said on Dec. 4 that he had not yet reached out to get the analysis started.
Before the decrease, residents paid $7 per 1,000 gallons for water and $9 per 1,000 gallons for sewer. These per 1,000-gallon rates go into effect after the first 2,000 gallons of water/sewer are used.  
Mayor Pam Gualtieri also suggested that the council look at increasing the allowed usage before the per 1,000-gallon rate begins. She noted that many communities allow at least 4,000 to 5,000 gallons before the per 1,000 rate kicks in. For the first 2,000 gallons of sewer, residents now pay $21.53, and for water, the cost is $19.50 per 2,000 gallons. 
After the brief discussion, the council voted to adopt the state average for water and sewer fees. 
City customers will now pay $4.60 per 1,000 gallons of water above the initial 2,000 gallons used and $6 per 1,000 gallons above the initial 2,000 gallon charge for sewer. No adjustments to the initial gallon allowance were made by the council at this time. 
City Attorney Dublin Hughes told the News Letter Journal that both ordinances allow for adjustments via resolution. 
“I think this will provide some relief over the holiday season while we get our ducks in a row,” Owens said. “I think it is a positive thing for the community.” 
City Clerk-Treasurer Stacy Haggerty did note that this decrease will affect the city’s budget and could require a budget amendment, but the severity of the impact was unknown at the time.

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