Dalton Utilities' 2021 budget includes rate increases for OptiLink TV, water, wastewater and natural gas

The board of Dalton Utilities on Monday approved a 2021 budget that includes 4.5% rate increases for both water and wastewater as well as increases for natural gas and OptiLink cable television.

Officials said rising prices and increased regulatory requirements are driving up the utility's costs, but they are trying to keep rates as low as possible.

“We do that by operating in the most cost-effective and efficient manner possible," said CEO Tom Bundros. "We control those costs that are within our ability to control, in order that the customers of the utility benefit from sound utility management, and are charged rates for services that are lower than those found elsewhere."

The budget forecasts 2021 revenues of $216.9 million, up from a projected $208 million this year. It forecasts expenditures of $179.8 million, up from $169.6 million this year. That would give the utility a 2021 operating margin of $37.2 million, down from $38.3 million this year.

The budget contains no rate increase for electricity.

"In the water and wastewater sector, we are getting a double hit," said Bundros in October when the budget was unveiled. "We've got increasing commodity prices, chemical expenses. And we are replacing legacy capital equipment. At the same time, we've got decreasing consumption."

The utility issued $75 million in bonds in 2017 to fund improvements and maintenance of its water and wastewater systems.

In a press release, the utility said that currently a typical monthly urban residential bill based on 4,500 gallons of water use is $20.23. Under the new rates, "the same usage will cost $21.14," according to the press release.

A typical rural bill (for residences outside city limits) will rise to $28.20 from $26.99.

A typical monthly residential wastewater bill, based on 4,500 gallons usage, will rise to $24.58 from $23.52.

The board approved a phased, two-year increase in base fees for natural gas.

Assuming the same cost of gas as January 2020, in January 2021 a residential customer bill for 125 therms will be $93.09, and after both phases of the adjustment are in place, that same customer would see their bill increase to $97.21, before taxes, the utility said in the press release.

OptiLink TV rates will increase $6 a month starting on Aug. 1, 2021. Bundros said in October that reflects the increasing costs of new contracts for content, especially sports.

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