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TMWA defers pre-approved rate increase, suspends water shutoffs

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The Truckee Meadows Water Authority board on Friday postponed a rate increase scheduled to go into effect in May and plans to revisit the issue in coming months.

Approved 3 years ago, the 2.5 percent rate adjustment was for residential, business and wholesale customers. Action was due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has created substantial increases in unemployment.

Washoe County Commissioner Vaughn Hartung
Washoe County Commissioner Vaughn Hartung

“We understand that we have all been launched into challenging times; how we work, go to school, shop for groceries, and conduct our daily lives have all been influenced,” TMWA chairman Vaughn Hartung said.

“While this rate increase is necessary, right now is not the correct time for implementation. Now is the time to look out for each other and do whatever we can to help.”

In April 2017, the board approved a 5-year rate adjustment plan that consisted of two 3 percent increases in May 2017 and May 2018, which went through as planned. Three additional increases, each of 2.5 percent in May 2019, May 2020, and May 2021, were also scheduled.

At the December 2018 meeting, the board approved deferring the third 2.5 percent rate increase out to May 2020, with the fourth and fifth planned for May 2021 and May 2022. That deferral was due to increased water sales because of unseasonably warm summers the prior three years.

Rate adjustments were put in place as a way to close a funding gap between recurring revenue and cost of services.

Although TMWA staff said this year’s planned increase would average less than a dollar per household, board member Jenny Brekhus noted Waste Management fees for Reno customers recently increased more than 3 percent.

Board member Neoma Jardon suggested TMWA tap its Rate Stabilization Fund to help with immediate budget issues. Such a fund is a financial reserve that can buffer impacts of revenue shortfalls.

Several board members agreed, and Hartung said setting money aside is good business practice.

“Rarely when you set money aside for non-rainy day funds, rarely do you understand why you set that money aside,” Hartung said. “This is a perfect use. We’re now in a position where we can use the money and use it properly.”

Board members are expected to address the rate adjustment in late summer or early fall. However, that timeframe would depend on the amount of COVID-19 cases locally and how long social distancing measures, such as business closures, are being enforced.

TMWA has also suspended water shutoffs for customers. Those experiencing hardships are asked to call 775-834-8080.

For more information on TMWA’s coronavirus response, visit
https://tmwa.com/article/tmwa-covid-19-coronavirus-response-and-faqs/.

Carla O'Day
Carla O'Day
Carla has an undergraduate degree in journalism and more than 10 years experience as a daily newspaper reporter. She grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., moved to the Reno area in 2002 and wrote for the Reno Gazette-Journal for 8 years, covering a variety of topics. Prior to that, she covered local government in Fort Pierce, Fla.

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