RIDGEWAY — Ridgeway Town Council voted 4-1 to amend Ridgeway’s budget to include a water usage rate increase of .01 cents per 1,000 gallons. Originally, Council had voted to increase the rate by $1 per 1,000 gallons of water.
The decision was prompted by the realization that the Town of Winnsboro’s water rate increase was more than 10 times lower than what Ridgeway Town Council had initially believed.
“We all know we had passed a dollar increase,” said Ridgeway Mayor Charlene Herring. “We all thought we had looked at the decimal point correctly, but had not.”
The initial $1 increase was to offset what Ridgeway Town Council understood to be a 98 cent per 1,000 gallon increase from the Town of Winnsboro.
Councilman Russ Brown explained the mistake was a simple oversight.
“Everybody looked at it, read their packet, and somebody said $1, and the wells were poisoned at that point,” Brown said.
At Thursday’s meeting, Ridgeway residents voiced their displeasure with the oversight.
“I came to urge you to reduce these water usage rates,” said Ridgeway resident DeDe Ruff, who further called the $1 increase exorbitant.
Although Council ultimately voted to reduce the increase, Councilman Doug Porter, the lone dissenting vote, argued in favor of keeping the $1 increase.
“I say keep it like it is,” Porter said.
There is recent precedent for mirroring the Town of Winnsboro’s rate increase, as well as increasing the rate.
In 2011, 2012 and 2013, Ridgeway’s rate increases directly matched the Town of Winnsboro, but in 2014, Town Council voted for a $1 increase on its minimal usage charge.
Herring said this was to account for rate increases, which had previously not been passed along.
Porter explained he feels a further rate increase is necessary, because there have been water and wastewater related projects have been put on hold because Ridgeway is generating insufficient water revenue. He added keeping the $1 increase would allow Town of Ridgeway to absorb future rate increases.
“Hopefully next year, they (the Town of Winnsboro) go up 10 cents, 20 cents, and we can just absorb it,” Porter said.
All members of Council agreed subsequent rate increases will be inevitable, but expressed doubt that keeping the accidentally inflated rate increase was the best course of action.
“I feel we need to stay in line with Winnsboro’s rate,” said Councilman Heath Cookendorfer. “Next year, if we need to adjust that rate, we will.”
Mayor Pro Tem Donald Prioleau said he believes raising the rate is inevitable, but it would be more prudent to wait until a wastewater work study is finished and costs are estimated.
Herring concurred. She acknowledged Ridgeway has an aging water system, but said she believes specific needs and improvements should be identified, and means of supplementing the budget for these projects should be investigated.
“We probably need to spell them out, and look at what a grant will cover,” Herring said.
Brown similarly acknowledged the eventual need for an increase, but said he would prefer it be a well-considered measure and not the result of an error.
“There’s no rhyme or reason,” Brown said. “It’s just a mistake.”
Ultimately, Prioleau motioned to amend the budget to reflect a 10 cent increase, instead of a $1 increase, and the motion passed 4-1.