By Rich Pollack

    Highland Beach residents could see a slight increase in their water bills next fall if town commissioners follow the recommendation of a consultant hired to study the town’s water rates.
    During a meeting last month, Robert Ori, president of Public Resources Management Group, recommended the town consider raising rates a small amount every year, rather than burden residents with a hefty increase every few years.
    He recommended the town tie the rate increase to the Municipal Cost Index, essentially a government version of the Consumer Price Index. That index is projected to increase at a rate of about 2.4 percent annually.
    For a home using 6,000 gallons of water, the monthly increase would be about $1.13, according to the consultant. For a multifamily building using 32,000 gallons per month, the increase would be about $2.91.
    The last time rates were increased was in December 2009, when commissioners set a base charge of $30 per water customer every two months and then a graduated rate schedule based on water usage.
    Rates currently range from $2.15 to $4.60 per thousand gallons, depending on consumption.
    “This is a good investment in the town,” Vice Mayor Bill Weitz said.
    He said town leaders have known for some time that expenses incurred to provide water and sewage services were expected to surpass the revenue the town gets from water bills.
    “We’ve been advised that there is no money set aside for repairs and restorations,” Weitz said.
    In his presentation, Ori showed that water and sewage revenues in the current year were about $3.1 million while expenses were about $3.06 million. But expenses were projected to shoot up to about $3.4 million in 2017.
    Ori recommended the town create a repair and replacement fund to cover maintenance and replacement of equipment. He suggested the town use about $1 million from the $6 million in utility reserves to create the fund, then transfer 7 percent of the prior year’s revenue — about $238,000 — into the fund each year.
    A full discussion of raising rates won’t take place until commissioners begin the budgeting process this summer.  Ú

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