Guest Post By Nicholas Smith of Raftelis
A new fiscal year typically means new water and wastewater rates for utilities in Florida. Florida utilities have long relied upon small and predictable annual rate increases to ensure their rates are sufficient to cover the cost to serve their customers. In setting rates, Florida utilities have always depended on careful financial analysis. Although COVID-19 has complicated this norm — Florida utilities can still proceed with rate changes, but it is best to proceed with some enhanced strategy. With universally high unemployment rates and utility governing bodies more concerned about affordability than ever, research by Raftelis shows utilities are moving ahead with rate increases, but they are looking for more data than before to support their decisions.
On October 5th, two House Democrats, Harley Rouda and Rashida Tlaib, submitted this letter to ask the director of the CDC to give a nation-wide moratorium on water disconnections due to non-payment through the state of emergency because of COVID-19. While this is at the federal scale, many individual utilities and states already declared moratoria in 2020, though some of those have expired by now (mid-October). Utilities and state and local government officials recognize the value of access to clean and safe water during the pandemic, and utilities are motivated to avoid disconnections for public health and customer service reasons, as well as to minimize the cost of operations associated with disconnections and reconnections. Still, disconnecting a customer from water service is seen as an important tool for revenue collection in the water/wastewater industry. According to data from 84 North Carolina water and wastewater utilities provided to the North Carolina Utilities Commission, an average of 13.7% of a utility’s customers were past due on their bill in June of 2019 (pre-COVID). Providing notice of disconnection or disconnection itself can be effective for encouraging payment of these late bills, but how effective they are is unclear.
Leigh DeForest is a graduate fellow in the 2019 Leaders in Environment and Finance (LEAF) program. As a part of the LEAF Fellowship, Leigh spent the summer of 2019 working at Triangle J Council of Governments. While at Triangle J she researched the ancillary benefits of stormwater utilities and green stormwater infrastructure as well as contributing to the Jordan Lake One Water initiative.
When communities consider establishing a potential new stormwater fee, residents may inquire about why they are being charged and where their money is going. Forming a stormwater utility fee creates a dedicated revenue source that can be used to support long-term planning for the control of urban stormwater runoff that benefits both the community’s functionality and the surrounding environment. Both permitted and non-permitted municipalities can benefit from instituting a stormwater utility. Continue reading
In 2018, the Environmental Finance Center (EFC) published findings from a study that assessed the metrics and criteria used to determine principal forgiveness eligibility in the state revolving funds (SRFs) in EPA Region 4. To complete a more comprehensive analysis, the EFC conducted interviews with program managers/directors and reviewed intended use plans in EPA Regions 9 and 10. The methodology used in this study is the same used for Region 4.
Similar to Region 4, all drinking water SRFs in Regions 9 and 10 use median household income as a metric to determine principal forgiveness eligibility. After median household income, water rates are the most frequently used metric. Other common metrics amongst some states in both regions include population, rate of unemployment, and debt. Metrics used by at least one state are poverty level, designated colonia areas, project type, operation and maintenance expense, and consolidation. For clean water, the most frequently used metrics are median household income, population, and unemployment rates. Continue reading
Guest Post By Stacey Isaac Berahzer, Christine Boyle, PhD, and Maryana Pinchuk
Note: This is the third in a series of Valor Water Analytics blog posts exploring water affordability, customer nonpayment, and technology that can enable utilities to deliver water more equitably and sustainably to all customers. It was originally posted to Valor Water Analytics on June 6, 2019.
Where We Can Go Tomorrow: Exploring Novel Interventions for Nonpayment Reduction
In our two previous blog posts in this series, we explored the definitions and metrics used to assess affordability, discussed the role of customer assistance programs (CAPs) in addressing affordability, and considered some major challenges that utilities face when setting up CAPs. In this post, we will briefly discuss rate structures and policy changes that influence affordability, as well as cover additional novel interventions that may reduce utility customer nonpayment in the water sector and related sectors. Continue reading