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The North Carolina Water and Wastewater Rates Dashboard was updated with 2021 data and the 2021 North Carolina Water and Wastewater Rates Report was published. Check them out today and join us for our June 15 webinar.

We are thankful for another year of partnership with the North Carolina League of Municipalities and for the on-going funding support from the North Carolina Division of Water Infrastructure.

The 2021 North Carolina Water and Wastewater Rates Dashboard was deployed in February 2021. The Dashboard is up to date for rates as of January 1, 2021. The Rates Dashboard provides an up-to-date look at rates and financial sustainability indicators for utilities around the state.

Rates and Finances in the Context of Covid-19

As we all know, 2020 was no typical year. Our State was heavily impacted by Covid-19, resulting in significant financial challenges for our water and wastewater utilities. Thanks to funding from the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory, the EFC was able to perform some important work to support utilities as they navigated, and continue to navigate, the financial challenges that Covid-19 has caused.

Despite the pandemic, the EFC completed the 2021 North Carolina Water and Wastewater Rates Survey in March 2021. We are very thankful to all the utilities that provided us with rate structure information. We are excited to announce that we have now published the 2021 Rates Report.

Before you dive in, here are the things you need to know as you use our resources to inform your financial decision making:

  1. We received rates from fewer utilities this year than any of the last 5 years.

The median service population of surveyed utilities was 4,220 this year and 3,715 last year, indicating that the utilities left out of this year’s survey are likely smaller than the median. Smaller utilities may have experienced more significant staffing challenges during the pandemic that impacted capacity to respond to the survey. Not to worry as we still received responses from 93.4% of utilities and the data we have presented can certainly be used to inform your decisions. If you’re reading this and your rates are not on our Dashboard, email your rates to emkirk@sog.unc.edu to be added.

  1. Rate increases have been delayed.

Anecdotally, we have heard utilities have put off rate increases because of financial concerns for their customers during Covid-19. The data collected in this survey confirms this, but not the extent some might have thought. Between 2019 and 2020, 41% of both water and wastewater rate structures increased. Between 2020 and 2021, 34% of water and 36% of wastewater rate structures increased. While fewer utilities raised rates, it seems that the utilities that did increase rates may have received larger increases. The median increase between 2019 and 2020 was about 4.7% for both water and wastewater. Between 2020 and 2021, that increased to about 5.1% for water and 5.2% for wastewater.

  1. Much of financial data presented on our Dashboard and in our Report does not fully capture the financial impact of Covid-19.

Local governments report financial information to the Local Government Commission after financial audits have been completed for the previous fiscal year. As a result, 60 of the 484 financial reports analyzed here are from 2019. Even the financial data for 2020 must be analyzed in context. The financial impacts of Covid-19 may not be fully evident for another year or two.

  1. Analyzing affordability may be the most difficult task at this time.

The US Census Bureau will not release the 2020 American Community Survey (ACS) until September of 2021. Therefore, we are using 2019 data for median household income on our Dashboard. While we always use ACS data that is slightly older than the rate information, this year is a little different in that our income analysis is completely pre-Covid. We may not fully see the impact of Covid-19 on the median household income and income distribution of communities (which we use in our affordability tool) until 2022 or 2023 ACS data is available.

Have questions? Leave them in the comments or attend the webinar on June 15.

Dashboard Webinar

Join us for a webinar on June 15th from 2:00 – 3:00 PM EST where we will demonstrate the 2021 North Carolina Water and Wastewater Rates Dashboard and answer your questions. Register here: https://unc.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJIpcO6qpzgvHNGIqL7AvnATWNLMRFRcW5fE

Evan Kirk joined the EFC at UNC in 2016 as a rates dashboard student, later serving as a research assistant until May 2019. In his current role as project director, he conducts applied research on water, wastewater, and stormwater finance topics and administers technical assistance and trainings for small systems. Kirk graduated from UNC in 2016 with a BS in environmental science. He later earned a master’s certificate in GIS science from the Department of Geography at UNC in 2017 and a master’s in city and regional planning with a concentration in land use and environmental planning from UNC in 2019.

 

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