After several Virginia Beach residents emailed complaints to the city about the cost of their water bill, a committee was established to investigate the affordability of city services.
The committee recommends the city shift to a monthly billing cycle and implement more consumption-based costs that could save utility customers about $4 per month.
Committee Chairman Christopher Chope presented the recommendations to city council Tuesday.
“It tends to be a stress for some families to be able to afford this bill on a bi-monthly basis,” council member Shannon Kane said. “We commissioned a group of individuals to look at this bill find ways to help folks better manage this.”
Virginia Beach’s bi-monthly water bill covers six different charges, which are solid waste collection, storm water, sanitary sewer, water consumption, water service availability and water utility tax. The committee’s intent was to attempt to eliminate the “confusion and the overall burden,” for all residents, according to Chope.
“This monthly billing could be instituted and implemented for a fairly reasonable cost to the citizens of the city,” Chope said.
Another aspect of this change is implementing more consumption-based costs.
Right now, the city’s sanitary sewer charge is a fixed cost at $61.62 on the bi-monthly bill.
But what if this cost was determined based on consumption?
Public Utilities researched what the impact of converting the sanitary sewer charge to a variable cost would be. The number it calculated is $6.24 per 1,000 gallons. The average single-family uses 4,296 gallons of water per month. With a consumption-based cost, this could be a $4 a month difference.
But Chope said there are potential negative implications with this recommendation.
“A lot of the folks who have water leaks and have higher water consumption probably don’t have the ability to perform repair work or install cost-efficient, or water-efficient devices,” Chope said. “You might find that we’re penalizing with higher volumetric fees, the very folks that we’re trying to help out.”
The committee also recommends investigating a consumption-based costs impact on garbage pick up, increase funding to the water assistance program and increase public education and outreach through a variety of different media.
Council member John Moss commented that paying a fixed storm water expense is regressive and should be moved to general tax bills. Whether a homeowner lives in a $50,000 property or a $500,000 property, they will pay the same amount for storm water management.
“With storm water management, everyone gets charged the same when your property is fully covered, not covered, and there’s no relationship between the behavior or the characteristics of the property and the amount you pay,” Moss said.
“So it leaves no definition of a fee under any kind of economic analysis, or any kind of customer relationship. It’s like being charged a fee for public safety.”
Next week, city council will hear a more financial in-depth look at the committee’s recommendation.