The Benson Board of Commissioners has raised the town’s base water rate.
At their meeting last week, commissioners raised the rate from $3.15 to $10 a month. The increase will support much-needed infrastructure repairs, town leaders said.
The increase will cost households an extra $82.20 a year.
“That was a fair and equitable way to disperse it, so each of the customers that share in the service share in the cost of getting that service to themselves,” said Matt Zapp, Benson’s town manager.
The increase is in the base rate, which is what customers pay for being connected to town water service. The town’s volume rate isn’t changing; it’s $4.29 per thousand gallons of water.
The rate increase will pay to repair water lines that in some cases haven’t been touched in more than 50 years, Zapp said.
Some parts of town have muddy water or low water pressure, Mayor William Massengill said at last week’s meeting. “We’ve got a lot of old infrastructure in the town,” he said. “We’ve known for a long time they need to be repaired.”
No one spoke at a public hearing on the rate increase. Commissioners passed the increase unanimously.
The town will make the water-line repairs in three phases, which will cost a total of $3.6 million over the next three years. Benson was able to secure $2.7 million in grants, Zapp said. To cover the rest, the town is spending $150,000 out of pocket and is taking out low-interest loans. Zapp said the rate increase will pay back the loan over time.
The town hasn’t increased its base rate for years and has a low rate compared to nearby towns that are similar in size, Zapp said. The increase will bring Benson to the mid-range of comparable towns, he said.
“It keeps us extremely competitive,” Zapp told commissioners. For instance, Benson buys its water from Dunn, which has a base rate of $12.75 a month.
Smithfield’s base water rate for in-town customers is $5.47. Outside of town, it’s $10.91 a month.
Danny Holland lives in Benson. “You always hate to pay more, but you live in a town that you love and support, and when it has to be, it just has to be,” he said. “We have to vote it in and move on. We want to grow to the future instead of to the past.”
Holland said the increase wouldn’t have hurt as much if the town had raised the base rate over time. He feels sorry for people on fixed incomes.
“But like I said, it had to be,” Holland said. “And they put it off just as long as they could without running the town on a crutch.”