The Portland City Council held discussions regarding water tap fees during the group’s April 15 meeting.
“What was asked was for the city to compare what we’re doing to others,” said Portland Utilities Director Bryan Price. “When you look at how it’s set up, cities typically don’t charge prior to filing a final plat. The utilities districts do.”
Portland’s current fee is $1,125 inside the city limits and $1,625 outside the city limits. There is also a $50 connection fee.
Price said he had gotten comparisons to other cities’ fees, such as Hendersonville, Gallatin and White House. He promoted changing the city’s fee structure and also cited water loss, saying that the utility currently sells only around 60% of the water it produces.
“We need to be thinking about how to maintain a level of service,” Price said. “If you allow a subdivision to come in and their pressure drops, I guarantee you’re getting phone calls.
“To maintain it, we’ve got to do infrastructure improvements. The city hasn’t done capital improvements — replacing water lines — in the last 10 to 15 years.”
Price said the city’s water plant was rated at 2.8 million gallons per day but was only capable of doing 2.7 million gallons currently. He also said the city would need to purchase water from White House to meet its needs this year and that buying water was three times as expensive as producing.
“It can’t even meet its maximum right now,” Price said. “Our worst three days (of demand) were in September last year with 2.5 MGD. We can’t maintain our existing revenue stream and purchase more water. If that means not doing something with fees, that means rate increases.”
Price said that developers pay no fees currently other than tap fees and noted that many other jurisdictions charge connection and other fees.
“Inside the city, they don’t pay until they actually buy a tap,” Price said. “In sewer, we have a $1,000 improvement fee, and that’s helping us upgrade lift stations and lines without raising rates right now.”
Portland Mayor Mike Callis noted that the city has had to reject development of some property, especially in the Robertson County area, because of an inability to deliver water.
“We’ve had to say no, because you don’t have any pressure,” Callis said. “Some areas in our city have great pressure. Some don’t.”
Callis noted that the city would not get a reservoir and that different avenues were being explored, including purchasing water elsewhere and reusing some water.
“This is a whole plan, but having the revenue … I don’t know what the answer is,” Callis said. “These are things we ask ourselves. Are there available options for us?”
Alderwoman Megann Thompson said that she felt the city should look at adding some of the fees seen in other communities.
“To develop in Portland is a privilege,” Thompson said. “If you’re paying it everywhere else, why can’t we support these kind of fees?”
Callis said that the city had, in the past, created a plan for addressing sewer and needed a similar plan for water. He noted that Puritan, which recently announced a significant economic investment in Orlinda, had first looked at Portland but couldn’t make it work.
“We know development can help pay if we spur things on,” Callis said. “It’s always going to be a push and pull. That’s the big decision, and we’re always trying to balance it.”
Reach Chris Gregory at 615-450-5756 or firstname.lastname@example.org.