Under election year pressure from business interests and at least two challengers, the Hendersonville City Council on Thursday approved a cap on initial hookup fees for large commercial water users.
The cap will apply to businesses using 5,000 or more gallons of water a day. The council voted to cap the system development charges at $10,000 for water and $19,460 for sewer. Last month a business owner who wanted to build a new carwash showed council members an estimate from the city water department showing a water-sewer hookup charge of $284,000.
"Our small businesses that use relatively small amounts of water per day, they benefitted from the new system," said City Manager John Connet. "As you move up the scale to folks who used a large amount of water, they had a large system development charge."
The fees for commercial water and sewer hookups have become an early campaign issue in the city election, with council candidate Jeff Miller depicting the charges as anti-growth and mayoral candidate Ron Stephens saying he wants the city to be more business friendly.
A residential water user currently pays a $668 system development charge, a fee designed to cover future costs associated with more water and sewer usage, compared to $800 under the old system and a $1,295 sewer system development charge compared to $1,400. Before the cap, the impact fee schedule helped smaller businesses but socked large users with big initial charges.
On July 11 the City Council council members directed Connet and the utilities department to recommend a more affordable fee schedule for larger businesses. The council put the cap while the staff drafts the proposal.
"We request additional time to finalize the options and review those options with (council members) individually," Connet said. "We should be able to meet with the city council over the next 30 days and bring something to the next meeting."
Connet and utilities director Lee Smith got their time extension but also received further recommendations from the city council. Currently, after two years, the utilities department reviews water and sewer use of each customer over the previous 18 months. If the customer uses less water than originally estimated, the utilities department will refund part of the system development charge.
"The only qualm I have about that is why hold the money for two years?" said Councilman Steve Caraker. "I don't know why we have to play the bank for folks. I think two years is a little bit of a stretch to hold someone's money."