The move from the third party billing service allows the utility to “better focus our efforts on our core service of providing high quality water service to Chattanooga and the Tennessee Valley,” said Kino Becton, Government Affairs Manager for Tennessee American Water. “Since we don't own the waste water system, we really wanted to focus more on our core service we provide to the region."
Residents who for years paid water and sewer bills with one payment will now make a separate payment for each service. The water utility and City of Chattanooga launched an information program, enclosing notices in water bills and separate mailings to help prepare residents for the change that begins this month. Customers should watch for the separate sewer bills from their municipality about a week after they receive this month’s water bill, local city officials said.
The City of Chattanooga will accept payments online, through bank bill pay programs, telephone, recurring payment and at local retail locations.
While the cost of treating waste is not increasing – at least for now - area customers can expect to see a slight increase, Chattanooga Media Relations Director Richard Beeland said.
“When the water utility stopped doing billing for all the municipalities it serves, that meant the city had to assume the cost of doing the billing,” Beeland said. “It will add another $1 a month to (users) bills.”
Becton said the utility’s decision is nationwide, affecting other states where the national, privately-owned company does business.
“We began notifying affected parties in June of 2011,” he said.
Utility employees worked with municipalities to ensure a smooth transition, he said.
The Tennessee Regulatory Authority in October 2012 approved a settlement granting TAW a nearly 13 percent rate hike, instead of the 35 percent increase originally sought by the utility. New rates took effect in November for residents of Chattanooga, Lakeview, Lone Oak, Lookout Mountain and Suck Creek service areas, according to agency information.
The need to “renew and replace water treatment facilities, pumps and pipelines was one of the main drivers for the rate request,” Becton said. “The recent rate settlement covered local water infrastructure investment of $25 million over the next two years.”
The 2012 rate hike is the second highest in the utility’s history. The highest increase was a 14.76 increase approved in 2011, less than half of the company’s requested 30.7 percent increase, according to information from the Tennessee Regulatory Agency.
The newest increase of 12.72 percent will raise the average monthly bill, with a use of 4,153 gallons, by $2.38 from $19.20 to $21.58 a month, Becton said.
“Periodic rate adjustment are needed to pay for ongoing maintenance and enhancements of the pipes, pumps and treatment plants that are critical to delivering reliable high-quality and reliable water service to our customers,” Becton said. “Despite this increase, our customers continue to receive high-quality, reliable water service for less than a penny per gallon.”