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.
This is the third post in a three-part blog series on data management. This post will focus on user-centered design of Environmental Finance Center tools.
Post by Julia Cavalier, Senior Research Specialist at UNC EFC and Robin Haley, Graduate Research Assistant at UNC EFC
As mentioned in the first and second part of this blog series, If you build the data platform, will they come? and Behind the Scenes of the Revenueshed Tool, the Environmental Finance Center (the EFC) project designers have to know the users, identify purpose of the project goal, and collect the data that exists to support this goal. With this comes documentation of the project, because without context it will be difficult to replicate actions and hard to understand from a user’s perspective. The EFC is revising some existing tools. The first step in revision is to understand and document how tools are used. The second step in revision is to set goals for what new tools should do. The goals will become the foundation of tool redesign.
Which EFC tools are being redesigned?
The EFC is redesigning the following tools:
- Water and Wastewater Rates Affordability Assessment Tool (the “Affordability Tool”). This tool shows the impact of rates on different customers. It looks not just at median household income but also other impacts on affordability like poverty rate.
- Financial Health Checkup Tool. This tool gathers input from five years of utility financial data and shows how key financial indicators compare to benchmarks.
- Rates Analysis Model. This tool lets a utility explore different rate changes – what would happen if I increased rates, added blocks, or changed the base or volumetric charges within some blocks?
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.
The abrupt arrival of COVID-19 in the United States financially impacted businesses across all sectors, with water and wastewater utilities being no exception (see our previous blog post). Two major factors influenced revenue streams for utilities in the state. The first was Executive Order 124/142 issued by Governor Cooper on March 31st, which prevented utilities from disconnecting water or wastewater services to residential customers due to missed payments. This moratorium extended until the end of July. The second factor was that many commercial, industrial, and institutional customers reduced or stopped their operations in line with the statewide stay-at-home order. For some communities, non-residential customers use the greatest share of water or wastewater. The utilities in these areas were at risk of significant revenue declines due to these customers ceasing operations.
We know there are a wide range of financial impacts on utilities during the pandemic depending on the size and composition of each utility’s customer base. By diving deep into a case study of one utility, we can better understand the specific effects that some systems across the state have been experiencing. At the EFC, we’ve been working with the Yadkin Valley Sewer Authority (YVSA) since the beginning of the pandemic to assess their financial condition and provide technical assistance. Using data and interviews they’ve provided, we are able to share a case study of their experience over the past year and how they are preparing for the future. Continue reading
August has been a key transition month for local government utilities in North Carolina as EO 124/142 (which prohibited disconnections due to non-payment for residential utility accounts) has expired, payment plans are required to be in place, and Governor Cooper just announced $175 million in relief money, including $122 million for assistance in paying rent and utility bills.
How are water and wastewater utilities across the state faring under COVID-19 conditions? We’ve been keeping track here at the EFC and though the circumstances are constantly changing, we’ve been able to assess some of the impacts of COVID-19 on utilities during the last five months.
We have just released a report funded by Division of Water Infrastructure in the Department of Environmental Quality, outlining results from a poll, analysis of the EO 124/142 data that utilities reported to the North Carolina Utilities Commission (NCUC) for the full April through July period that covered the statewide moratorium, stories of individual utilities (blog post coming soon), and an overview of our financial resiliency tool. Continue reading