ELKINS, W.Va. (WBOY) – Residents of 14,000 homes in Elkins who use city water could see a major increase on their water bills in the coming month. According to a release from the city, the Elkins Water Board has recommended an emergency rate increase of 32 percent for city water customers, which could hit customers’ bills as soon as Sept. 15.

The raise “is essential for the utility.” Regulatory changes in the state, inflation and COVID-related supply chain issues were cited as reasons for the change. If passed, the water rates would increase by 32% immediately and then by an additional 3% in summer 2023.

“We really do not like to see any burden on any of the public, but there’s simply no other choice right now, there’s no other way for a utility to maintain their operations unless they do a rate increase,” said Wesley Lambert, Elkins Water System Chief Operator.

The city said that Elkins’ water rates have been the same since 2017 and “are no longer sufficient to support operation and maintenance of the city’s water system.” Last year, costs exceeded revenues for the Elkins Water Board, and equipment upgrades and raises for employees have been put on hold because of budget restrictions.

The release said that the costs of some materials and chemicals have increased by 500%.

“If there were any other solution, we’d do it in a heartbeat, but there isn’t, and we can’t ignore the problem. If we don’t increase the system’s revenues soon, we will be in a very bad situation,” said Lambert.

To determine the new rate, Lambert and the board worked with the accounting firm, Griffith & Associates, PLLC to analyze the last three years of costs, the ongoing effects of inflation, the condition of essential equipment and vendor price projections. The board also worked with Robert Rodecker, an attorney with Kay, Casto & Chaney PLLC who practices before the West Virginia Public Service Commission on regulatory matters involving water and other utilities.

“We’re following an emergency process to set this new rate, because the Water Board recognizes that there could be severe consequences otherwise,” said Lambert.

Other cities in north central West Virginia are being forced to make similar price hikes, such as Fairmont which raised its water prices by 34% over the summer.

Going forward, the Elkins Water Board plans to reevaluate the rates every two years to prevent large hikes like this one, which comes after five years of constant rates.

Now that the Elkins Water Board has made its recommendation, the next step is consideration by city council. The first of two readings of a rate ordinance is scheduled for Sept. 1, and the second reading is scheduled for Sept. 15. Because this is an emergency rate increase, the new rate would go into effect immediately upon passage.

The proposed increase does not include funds for the systematic replacement of aging water lines citywide, work for which engineers retained by the city have estimated a bottom line of tens of millions of dollars. City and board staff are actively exploring funding options for the initial phase of this work.