Bell Buckle absorbs water rate hike

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Bell Buckle hopes to keep water bills low for its customers despite a dramatic rate hike from Bedford County Utility District (BCUD).

The town's Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted Tuesday to accept the latest contract from BCUD with the new rate of $4 per 1,000 gallons, an increase of 51 percent over the current rate of $2.65 per 1,000 gallons.

The new rate will be effective from Jan. 1, 2008 through June 30, 2009. The rate also assumes a minimum of 100,000 gallons a month per meter, leading to a minimum bill of $400 per meter.

In December 2006, Bell Buckle's rate with BCUD was $2.15 per 1,000 gallons, which relates to an overall increase of 74 percent in a little over one year.

Mayor Dennis Webb told the board that BCUD believes the rates are justified to maintain its infrastructure and support their capital outlay in the future.

Webb characterized the increase as "dramatic, to say the least" but added that as mayor, he is committed to not passing the hike along to the town's water customers, "who already pay a substantial amount for water."

"We must work hard to absorb this impact and work with BCUD to stabilize rates for our future," he said. Bell Buckle receives water from both BCUD and Wartrace.

The board also expressed disappointment that the town failed to receive a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for this funding cycle. Alderperson Jenny Hunt said that the CDBG program seems not to be set up to help small towns with the population of Bell Buckle.

The county recently received a CDBG in the amount of $500,000 for water line extensions to serve 56 homes in the Flat Creek and Wartrace areas.

Bell Buckle had applied for a CDBG to help pay for repairs to the town's sewer system, which is under a director's order from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

In a related matter, water manager Ronnie Lokey reported that work is continuing on the equalization basin, which is part of the state-mandated improvements. The tank is nearly complete, except for one panel, which will be placed when all work is completed on the inside.

Lokey also reported that three sewer leaks were identified on the town's sewer survey and that Joe Richards, who was hired to detect leaks in the town's water system, had found one that was losing 10 gallons per minute, which was repaired.

The board deferred action on a citizen request to remove a speed bump on School Street until the board could was sure how its removal would impact storm water flow. The board was also given information about Tennessee's property tax freeze to examine.

The law, passed in November of 2006, authorize counties and/or municipalities to implement a local option property tax freeze for taxpayers 65 years of age or older.

Hunt reported that work has begun on the amphitheater at Bell Buckle Park following six years of planning and fundraising. She asked citizens to stay out of the construction areas for safety reasons.

She also reported that some are abusing the park with "visual evidence of unacceptable conduct" taking place. Those caught will be reported to the sheriff's department and Bell Buckle's Neighborhood Watch is being encouraged to patrol the park at night. Due to the abuse, security cameras will be installed, Hunt said.