City targets 5% utility bump

Ongoing increase precedes looming water, sewer infrastructure repairs

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For the fourth year in a row, City of Kilgore leaders are poised to approve a five percent across-the-board increase to utility rates for the coming fiscal year.

It’s part of a decade-long plan to steadily catch the charges up in time to cover significant, unavoidable costs for water and wastewater improvements in years to come, Kilgore City Manager Josh Selleck says.

“Nearly every component of our utility system has reached the end of its useful life,” he added, including the city’s water treatment facilities. “It’s time to either rehab or replace, and we have a 20-year plan to address all those issues.

“However, the old rate structure was only sufficient to operate the plants and not sufficient to maintain or rehabilitate them.”

Council members undertook a Wastewater Master Plan in 2014, Selleck noted. A Water Master Plan was already completed, awaiting implementation.

Both of those years-long outlooks included “very significant” rate increases – the initial proposal was a 300-percent hike.

“Our goal has been to make it a bit more tolerable,” he said, steadily increasing rates by digestible increments. “What we’ve been able to get it down to is the rates will double over about a 10-year period.

Last week, council members approved an update to the city’s Master Fee Schedule, scheduled for Oct. 1, the beginning of Fiscal Year 2018-2019. It includes the 5 percent increase, such as the bump in customers’ base service charge (both residential and commercial) from $13.64 to $14.32 per month.

Consequently, the fee increase also includes an increase to the discount available to qualifying senior citizens, age 65 and over, off the service charge.

“We recognize that, especially for our citizens that are on fixed incomes, they may be struggling to keep up. So, this year we’re increasing the discount from $2.50 to $5,” Selleck said. “Most of our seniors already have it in place and may not know that.

“Anybody who is interested in making sure they have the over-65 discount can contact our utility billing office” via 903-984-5081. Initiating the discount for a qualifying senior citizen will require a visit to Kilgore City Hall to present a state-issued ID verifying the age of the homeowner.

Essentially, Selleck added, the water and wastewater plans have indicated the need to replace much of the aging infrastructure.

“The average age of our wastewater system is 70 years-old. That’s a very good lifespan. The city has been able to use it for a very long time, but unfortunately, it’s come to the end of its life,” he said. “No one did anything wrong to get here. The system’s life was stretched to its limits. It’s just time to make the repairs and rehabilitate it.

“Our utility system probably generates the most complaints of anything we do in the city, running from red water to wastewater overflows or backups. We think our customer base will be appreciative of the work, albeit expensive.”

Amid other charges and changes in the fee schedule (most of them related to water and wastewater), the city is also modifying some cemetery fees and services: notably, infant spaces at Danville Cemetery and Kilgore Memorial Gardens will be platted “at time of need only” and no new cremation spaces will be placed at Danville.

The cost for a cremation space at Kilgore Memorial Gardens will increase from $200 to $800 and from $100 to $600 at Danville Cemetery.

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