Eastern Wake News

Water plan gets icy reception

Area water customers having trouble paying their monthly bill could get some help if a plan floated by the city of Raleigh passes muster with the six communities who merged their water systems with the capital city over the past several years.

The City of Raleigh introduced a Bill Assistance Program to merger communities. The program is designed to help customers pay their water bill if they can’t afford it. Customers could receive up to $240 a year to help pay for their water.

The money to pay for the plan would come from the six merger communities as well as Raleigh. Under a plan presented last month to Wendell commissioners by City of Raleigh’s Assistant Public Utilities Director Kenneth Waldroup each government would pay into the fund based on the number of customers they have.

Raleigh would pay $200,000, Knightdale would pay $8,128, Wendell $4,115, and Zebulon’s share would be $3,505. If approved, the plan could begin toward the end of September. The need for this program is that many people have struggled to pay their water bill as costs have escalated, according to an assessment led by the Raleigh Public Utilities Department, which shows approximately 10 percent of customers in that city can’t afford their water.

Local officials are studying the program, but they say there are a lot of unanswered questions. For instance, the plan calls for the towns to pay for the program out of their general funds, which are supported by property taxes. But there are several hundred homes outside the Wendell corporate limit which are municipal water customers. Though they pay double water rates, they don’t pay property taxes, which means they wouldn’t help support the assistance program. There are also concerns that the funding proposed by the plan falls short of the need. “It will not serve all of the people that are in need that would qualify,” Wendell Town Manager Teresa Piner said.

Wendell Mayor Ginna Gray agreed. “There are more people that need help than the program can help. It doesn’t speak to people that don’t qualify but still need help.”

In tight budget times, many towns may also find it difficult to pay for the assistance program.“We may not have the money,” Piner said. Gray sounded a similar note. “We just cannot afford it. This program will indeed help the right people just not enough of them.” Waldroup says the town of Knightdale has already declined to participate. “They want to hang back and see what happens before they try it,” he said.