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L-EWA, LFD agree on water billing

Agencies settle detailes regarding rate increase

Posted: September 17, 2010 3:10 p.m.
Updated: September 20, 2010 5:00 a.m.

Well, it depends on what the meaning of the word “free” is.

That’s what several members of both the Lugoff-Elgin Water Authority (L-EWA) Board of Directors and the Lugoff Fire District Board of Commissioners were debating last week.

The two groups -- along with Kershaw County Fire Services (KCFS) officials, representing the Elgin Fire Department (EFD) -- met Thursday to determine what approach will be taken to establish a fair rate system for the Lugoff and Elgin fire departments.

By meeting’s end, the L-EWA board approved, 5-1, to install a meter at the Lugoff station to begin gauging the Lugoff Fire Department’s (LFD) water use, and to credit the department approximately $200 in connection with a recent rate increase. Chip Mcaa cast the lone dissenting vote. The measure still requires approval by the Lugoff Fire District board.

The LFD had been charged at L-EWA’s standard residential rate of $24.32 for 2,000 gallons and was not charged for any water usage above that amount. L-EWA General Manger Mike Hancock raised the LFD’s billing two months ago to a 1-inch (pipe) rate of $128.05 for up to 25,000 gallons without notifying the department, district commissioners or the L-EWA board.

Thursday’s motions states that the L-EWA will continue to charge the LFD at the $24.32 residential rate with no charge above the 2,000 gallon minimum through Dec. 31. Starting Jan. 1, 2011, the rate will officially increase to the $128.05/25,000-gallon 1-inch rate through the end of the 2011 fiscal year, which ends June 2011. The LFD will not be charged above 25,000 gallons during that period.

Beginning next fiscal year, July, the authority will bill the LFD at the one-inch rate and charge the standard rate for water used in the station above the 25,000-gallon minimum.

Thursday’s meeting came two weeks after L-EWA Attorney Jay Bender announced to the L-EWA board that the authority has been breaking state law by providing free water to both the Lugoff and Elgin fire departments and their branches.

But LFD Chief Dennis Ray, who attended the meeting, has said the department has always received a bill, and they’ve always paid their bill.

What was on the bill was the question. While the LFD was being billed at the $24,32/2,000-gallon rate, they hadn’t been charged for any usage above that amount, which is where “free” comes into play.

LFD usage is well above 2,000 gallons, though an actual figure is difficult to pin down because there’s no meter at the central Lugoff station or its hydrants. Several fire commissioners dismissed earlier estimates by Hancock of 1 million gallons.

Ray and Hancock then spoke to try to determine a solution and decided that both the L-EWA board and fire district commissioners should be involved in Thursday’s meeting.

L-EWA Chairman Vince Halter said Hancock had the authority to increase the LFD’s bill without bringing it before the board but, in hindsight, wishes Hancock had told them.

Both Hancock and Ray were adamant that they want to continue a strong, close working relationship.

“We need each other,” said Ray.

In Elgin, the charge will remain at $24.42 for the remainder of 2010. Beginning next calendar year, L-EWA will bill for actual usage, because the EFD -- a volunteer department under the KCFS -- splits the bill with Elgin Town Hall.

The L-EWA, LFD and KCFS all agreed hydrants will not be metered.

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