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FARMINGTON -- Some water customers aren't paying their fair share, said Josh Moore, general manager at the Washington Water Authority.

About 425 people in southeastern Washington County signed contracts to pay at least $35 a month for water, and those contracts helped the authority get a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan to partly cover the $9 million cost for a major expansion.

The Southeast Phase II project was meant to bring water to low-income families. Five-year contracts were signed starting in October 2010, and the project broke ground on the 75-mile water line extension in 2012.

The project was finished in 2014, Moore said.

Three years later, about 5 percent of people who signed contracts aren't paying at all, Moore said. The authority is losing about $700 per month, or a total of about $25,200 so far.

The reasons people give for not paying vary, Moore said. Some don't want to pay because they aren't getting water from the meter. At least one person sold his property without telling the buyer about the unpaid water bill, Moore said.

Other times people inherit property without knowing about the fees, Moore said.

So far, the authority has not sued to get paid, Moore said. The authority has continued to make payments on the $1.25 million USDA loan, he said. Other money for the project was from a federal grant, he said.

The USDA referred questions to the authority. The department is not involved because the authority still makes its payments, said Karen Petrus, spokeswoman.

The authority's annual budget shows revenue is expected to grow about $160,000 next year, up from $3 million this year. The increase allowed the authority's board to approve a 2 percent cost of living raise for employees and a 1.7 percent merit raise.

Total cost for the raises is capped at $25,000, Moore said during the authority's December meeting.

Much of the revenue is because of an uptick in new water requests and sales, Moore said. That means the authority will have more expenditures to buy water, install equipment and maintain the system, Moore said.

Total expenditures are also expected to rise about $160,000, according to the 2018 budget. Moore estimated about $3,500 would be left over at the end of next year.

Other Northwest Arkansas water providers have not had major expansions recently. The Benton-Washington Regional Public Water Authority, which sells water to the Washington Water Authority, used contracts early on but hasn't since 2007, said Scott Borman, general manager.

The contracts are important to rural providers because it makes sure the loans are covered, Borman said.

"People signed a contract agreeing to that," he said. "It puts Washington Water Authority between a rock and hard place. People agreed to do this, and then they are not doing it."

NW News on 12/25/2017

Print Headline: Washington Water Authority covers some nonpayment loss, grows revenue

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