After a year's reprieve from water and natural gas rate increases, Metropolitan Utilities District customers will start seeing bigger bills in 2013.
On Wednesday, the district's board voted 5-1 to approve a $405 million budget that includes a 5 percent increase for water rates, an average 2.6 percent increase for natural gas and a 2 percent increase in the capital facilities charge placed on water bills.
That will amount to an annual water rate increase of between $10 and $30 per year on average, depending on meter size.
Average gas bills will go up by $15.37 per year for residential customers.
The district says the increases are needed to help pay off debt on bond issues, fund repairs and compensate for higher wages and insurance costs for employees. Among the projects in the works: more than $25 million in improvements to water treatment plants, $12.2 million in technology upgrades and $2.3 million in gas main projects that aren't funded by fees the district already charges.
Deb Schneider, MUD senior vice president and chief financial officer, said the district had a mixed year, with low gas prices but larger-than-expected revenue for water in a hot, dry summer. The extra water use — about $10 million worth — helped the district avoid a more significant increase, but Schneider said there were still plenty of budget holes to be filled.
She said the district has significant debt payments to make this year, and staying up to date on them is a major priority.
“We are adamant that we're going to keep in compliance with our debt service covenants on all of the bonds issued,” she said.
The adjusted water rates are expected to generate an additional $3.7 million per year, while the adjusted gas rates will bring in an extra $5.5 million.
The district's staff is down 11 positions since last year, and funding to fill those jobs is included in the 2013 budget. But Schneider said the district's president, Doug Clark, has made it clear that he wants to try to keep those positions dark.
Nonunion MUD employees are in line for a 2 percent raise, with some getting additional missed "step" pay increases.
Meanwhile, the board granted Clark a 5 percent raise on his $206,356 salary. It was Clark's first raise since he took the position in January 2011.
Schneider said the proposed rate increases are smaller than the ones projected for 2013 two years ago. Back then, the district believed it would increase rates by 10 percent.
“I think that's attributable to really looking at all of our businesses and controlling costs as we can,” she said.
The MUD rate changes come as customers are bracing for higher costs for other utilities.
As Omaha digs into its $2 billion sewer system overhaul, rates to fund that work also are increasing significantly. Residential sewer rates, which typically cost $24 now, are expected to increase to $37 per month by 2014 and to $50 by 2017.
And starting in January, the Omaha Public Power District will implement a 6.9 percent general rate increase, its second-highest in a decade of rate increases.
For residential customers, the jump is 7.7 percent, which equates to an average increase of $7.30 per month. Industrial power rates will go up by 8.5 percent, while commercial rates will increase 5 percent.
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