County water customers can expect to see a new round of price increases on their monthly bills starting next month, thanks to an upcoming 7 percent cost bump that the Cullman County Commission approved at its most recent regular meeting.
The commission approved the increase as an unadjusted pass-through of the higher 7 percent cost it’s set to begin paying for wholesale treated water from the City of Cullman Utilities Board. Under a previous administration, the county commission agreed to a 50-year contract to purchase all its water from the utilities board back in 2010 as part of the initial Duck River Dam purchase agreement. The Duck River reservoir, when it becomes operational, is expected to serve as a long-term supplement to the city’s ability to deliver water to both city residents and wholesale customers like the Cullman County Water Department.
County commission chairman Jeff Clemons said Monday that the county won’t see any additional revenue from the increase, and that the price bump is necessary in order for the commission to continue to purchase water at rates the city utilities board sets — which, by contract, the commission is legally bound to do.
“I hate it, and I’ve been getting a lot of feedback from citizens,” said Clemons. “People are realizing more and more that we’re obligated under a 50-year contract that was signed way before I took office. We really don’t have a choice.
“It makes me sick every time that water rates go up, especially for farmers. Think about how hard it is to make a living from farming now, and add to that another price increase for water — something our farmers can’t do without as part of their business. I would fight at every turn to keep our water rates as low as they can be, but we’re locked in and can’t violate the terms of our contract.”
A similar pass-through rate increase last took effect in late 2019, when the utilities board upped the price of treated water by 10 percent — the most recent in a series of incremental cost bumps that were factored as stepped increases in the original agreement. Clemons said the new 7 percent increase, though, is not a planned part of that arrangement.
“We didn’t expect it. In October of 2019, rates went up by 10 percent, and I thought that it would be a while before we saw another increase,” he said. “I want to have a great relationship with the city, and I think that we do. It’s a hard question to answer for people who are asking why we’re seeing another water increase, but this is one instance that we don’t really have control over.”
The higher rates are set to kick in for county water customers beginning with the next billing cycle.