The North Carolina Water and Wastewater Rates Dashboard was updated with 2021 data and the 2021 North Carolina Water and Wastewater Rates Report was published. Check them out today and join us for our June 15 webinar.
We are thankful for another year of partnership with the North Carolina League of Municipalities and for the on-going funding support from the North Carolina Division of Water Infrastructure.
The 2021 North Carolina Water and Wastewater Rates Dashboard was deployed in February 2021. The Dashboard is up to date for rates as of January 1, 2021. The Rates Dashboard provides an up-to-date look at rates and financial sustainability indicators for utilities around the state.
The past year has forced local government utilities to make difficult decisions about how to maintain operations while providing essential services during an infectious disease pandemic, as discussed in several of our past blog posts (here, here, and here).
Financial viability is a cornerstone of a utility’s ability to weather a proverbial storm that disrupts revenue flows. A viable system is one that functions as a long-term, self-sufficient business enterprise while providing reliable water services. The EFC has been on the look-out for stories of utilities and municipalities that are making steps towards financial viability, even in the midst of challenges like COVID-19.
The town of Ahoskie, located in rural Hertford County, has been implementing financial best practices over the past few years to decrease expenses and pay off debt, which set them up to survive a financially straining event like a lockdown. Below is a part of their story, here is a video that highlights the work they’ve done, and here is a more in-depth report. More resources regarding evaluating costs can be found at this webpage.
At the start of the pandemic, there was uncertainty about how water and wastewater utilities’ revenues and finances might be affected. Many utilities and local governments were concerned with loss of revenue from the commercial sector, as well as the financial implications of statewide moratoria on late fees and disconnections for non-payments designed to ensure that everyone has adequate access to water and sanitation during a designated public health emergency. Various polls and case studies were analyzed to gauge early and ongoing effects on the utilities’ financial condition. Now, the release of audited data in local governments’ annual financial statements provides additional information and insights. This blog post summarizes how over 300 local government water and wastewater utilities in North Carolina fared at the end of Fiscal Year 2020 (end of June 2020 for all local governments in the state) compared to previous years. The audited data include the first three months of the pandemic.
The 1997 EPA Financial Capability Assessment (FCA) consisted of a two-part assessment to determine a municipality’s financial capability to implement projects to comply with Clean Water Act (CWA) requirements. The EPA has used the 1997 FCA to negotiate implementation schedules for both combined sewer overflow and sanitary sewer overflow controls. The first part of this assessment is the Residential Indicator (RI), which is the cost per household of CWA compliance divided by the median household income. The second part is the Financial Capability Indicator, which evaluates the municipality’s fiscal health and its demographics relative to national norms.
In part due to the simplicity of the Residential Indicator, the water and wastewater community has used a similar metric known as median affordability or % median household income (MHI) to assess affordability at the local level. Median affordability is the annual water and wastewater bill at a set consumption volume divided by the MHI of the service area. State revolving funds also have used median affordability to determine which municipalities are eligible for principal forgiveness on loans. The difference between the RI and median affordability is that median affordability uses the current cost to the customer and the RI uses the total cost to implement CSO or SSO controls to comply with Clean Water Act requirements. Because both the RI and the median affordability rely on MHI to determine affordability, they have both received criticism over the years, including from the EFC (here, here, here).
This is the first of a series of three posts on utility data management. The Environmental Finance Center collects all sorts of data for projects. The EFC uses data from regulatory agencies, financial reports, and data on area residents from the US Census Bureau.
The project design questions the EFC asks are:
- Know the users! Are they:
- The public?
- What should be shown?
- Decisionmakers need reliable data on cost and benefits
- Staff may need to drill down on details
- Overall, tell a story
- What data exists to support and analyze how can different data sources be connected?
For water and wastewater rates dashboards, the EFC’s primary audience is staff of utilities and the secondary audience are utility board members and decisionmakers. The EFC shows utility rates and, importantly, the context for those rates. Multiple dials show the user the balance between factors such as operating ratio and affordability. Comparison groups let the user look at their rates in comparison with other utilities in their watershed or with utilities serving similar numbers of customers. This year, the EFC has added dials for non-revenue water and for wastewater inefficiency to the North Carolina dashboard.