Come 2019, Highland residents will be paying more for their water as part of a plan to fund repairs to the city’s water infrastructure.
Five years of annual water rate hikes were approved by the city council last week. Water rates will be raised by 1.5 percent annually through 2024.
The rate increase stems from a 2017 evaluation of Highland’s aging water distribution system. The study found that 25 percent of the entire system would need to be replaced and that the estimated cost of the project would be around $14.5 million, or $750,000 per year over a 20-year term.
City Manager Mark Latham said that study, performed by engineering firm Hurst-Rosche, recommended the city increase water rates over the next few years by 1.5 percent or 3 percent. That gave the city an outline on how best to move forward, he said, noting that the 1.5 percent increase would have less of an impact than large rate hike all at once.
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He said the city will evaluate the rate increases each year as the five-year term winds down.
Most of the city’s water main problems come from the cast iron mains, Director of Public Works Joe Gillespie told the News Leader early this year. The problems pipes are estimated to be 60-80 years old.
Last year, the city had 25 water main breaks. Half of those breaks happened on the city’s problem pipes and each, Gillespie said, costs the city around $1,500 to repair.
The 2017 study firm re-evaluated the replacement project based on two different annual rate increases over the next 17 years. Hunt said the firm looked at both 1.5 percent and 3 percent annual increases.
According to the study, a 1.5 percent annual increase will:
▪ support $500,000 in annual debt service for water main replacements,
▪ support about $8.15 million worth of total project costs,
▪ replace 50 percent of the total replacements recommended in 2017.
Other Council Action
The council also approved upgrades to the city council chambers to better meet the American with Disabilities Act and approved the purchase of a $29,590 Police Package Ford Explorer for the Highland Police Department.
A special use permit also was approved for a 14-acre parcel of land hoped to be turned into a solar farm by Summit Ridge Energy on the east side of town. It is the second 14-acre site to be approved for possible use as a solar farm if the company is chosen to receive funds to build the site.
The council also moved to reject all bids for the replacement of heating, ventilation and air conditions in the Weinheimer Community Center due to a lack of competition. Latham said the only bid that came in on the project was far more expensive than the estimated cost of the replacement.
He said the city would most likely wait until the new year to go out for bid again on the building, as more companies would be available schedule-wise at the start of 2019.