The dozen farmers who attended last week’s utility board meeting knew it was too late to stop an extensive water rate increase, but they still wanted their voices to be heard.
“We want you to understand where we are coming from,” said dairy farmer Bruce Held. “We’re here because we are all concerned.”
The farmers said are worried about how the rate increase will impact their businesses. They potentially face anywhere from $77 to more than $500 more a month on their water bill.
Held said he would have to pay an extra $350 a month on his water bill once the increase goes into effect.
“That really does have a big impact on us,” Held said.
Adair County farmer Greg Burton, who has six different water meters on his farm, is worried about how hard those increases will hit the budget of the average farmer.
“It is quite a little bit of a hit for chicken farmers, dairy farmers, whoever for that matter,” Burton said.
General Manager Lenny Stone said anyone is welcome to come to the water office and get an estimate of how much their bill will increase under the new rates.
Many of the farmers who were at the meeting said they spent more than $7,000 last year on water, including Danny Downey, who is also on the utility board.
“At $7,900, and you increase me 20 to 30 percent, that’s a big chunk of my money,” Downey said.
One big question of the evening was why the utility board took on millions of dollars in projects at the same time, a cost the utility district customers must now carry.
“How can you justify that?” resident Bill Anderson asked. “These people (farmers) are business people…You’re making it easier for some of these people to go out of business.”
Adair County Judge Executive Ann Melton also questioned the decision to add so many projects at once.
“We as county government would like to do a lot of projects, but we have to pick and choose what we can afford this year without having to raise people’s taxes,” Melton said.
Melton also voiced frustration for the farmers in the room.
“Agriculture is our largest employer and that’s who we are hurting,” she said.
Board members Larry Legg and Robert Flowers defended the board’s decision for the rate increase.
Legg, who once worked on water lines in the county, recalled days when farmers were hauling water during droughts years ago.
“If you didn’t have the water you wouldn’t be in business,” Legg said. “We’ve kept rates down and down to give you guys the services so you can stay in business.”
The rate increase wasn’t the only issue farmers had with the board.
The salary of General Manager Stone, $125,000 a year, was questioned.
Flowers said it would take a minimum of three people to replace Stone.
“We have a large system and I make no apologies for his salary,” Flowers said.
Farmers also asked about the pay structure. The current rates cap off at 25,000 gallons of water for commercial customers. After 25,000 gallons, a customer pays the same price per usage.
A lot of farmers use hundreds of thousands of gallons of water. For example, one farmer said he used 125,000 gallons of water last month.
The board did agree to look into having volume discounts for commercial customers beyond 25,000 gallons.
The Adair County Utilities Board meets the second Thursday of each month at 4 p.m. at the water office on Grant Lane.
Board members Larry Legg, Rudy Higginbotham, Raybon “Toon” Burton, Danny Downey and Robert Flowers were all present at the meeting.
By Allison Hollon