The funds from an eight percent increase in the City of Aiken water and sewer rates that occurred last spring has made an impact on the infrastructure improvements made around the area.
According to City Manager Richard Pearce, six new utility division employees started working in October and close to a couple hundred services in the aging water system have been replaced.
Pearce said that the service replacement is hard, dirty work and crews are finding these lines in obscure places like underneath driveways.
Work has taken place in the Spencer Drive area and the South Meadows neighborhood where there were a higher number of water leaks, Pearce said.
Last year, the eight percent rate increase was pitched to help employee new crewmen to help fix the growing amount of leaks as well as replace deteriorating services and to supply the equipment to do that work, according to Pearce.
The eight percent increase was approved by a six-to-one vote in April – former Councilman Don Wells opposed the rate hike. A total of six percent of that increase went towards the additional crews and work materials – the remaining two percent went towards inflation.
Over the years, the city’s population has steadily grown. In 1992, there were 13,767 water customers and, by 2011, that number had increased to 18,649. Before the most recent rate increase was approved, the city’s utility crew had only increased by two employees since 1986. A total of 118 miles of water and sewer mains were added from 1992 to 2011 and under that division’s care.
More than 10,000 services are in need of replacement, and the project will probably take several years to complete.
Engineering and Utilities Director Larry Morris said at the 2012 Horizons Retreat that the goal would be to replace about 2,000 services a year. The goal was also to replace a failing service rather than just repair it.
Once a service is replaced, it’s entered into the a geographic information system which helps the city better manage information about the water and sewer system, Pearce added.
With each service replaced, fewer leaks should occur which will save residents aggravation and eventually, the city some money.
The leak frequency during the summer of 2011 was 45 average new incidents a week. Approximately 26 of those leaks were repaired during normal working hours and an average of 29 were repaired during overtime.
An average of 18 to 25 percent of water has unaccounted for per year due to leaks which is revenue the city is losing out on, Morris said during the April meeting, adding that he felt that that number could be reduced to 10 percent with new services in place.
Despite last year’s eight percent increase, city officials said that Aiken still has one of the lowest rates in South Carolina. According to a survey conducted by the city staff, the average rate across the state is 43 percent higher than that of the City of Aiken and Myrtle Beach is the only city to have a lower total rate.