Charlotte Water to Settle Lawsuit with Real Estate Developers and Home Builders. What does that mean for Customers? 

Recently, Charlotte City Council approved a legal settlement between Charlotte Water and a law firm representing local real estate developers and builders. The lawsuit is part of an overall class action lawsuit against more than two dozen cities in North Carolina, including Charlotte, over the legality of water utilities to charge system development fees. The developers and builders claimed that utilities’ system development fees should be stopped and paid back.

System development fees are a long-standing industry standard, state statute (North Carolina General Statute 162A Article 8), and important part of a water utility’s capacity-building program.

 Charlotte Water, like other utilities in the state, charge system development fees to developers and other home builders to partially recover upfront costs associated with capacity investments. These fees – not charged to the average Charlotte Water customers – help offset the financial investment required to build the necessary water and sewer system expansions for new developments. Fees range from $3,500 to over a million and depend on the size of the meter being requested and are typically passed along to developers’ clients and products.

“Without system development fees all customers would bear the cost of the additional capacity needed when new developments add on to the water and sewer systems.”

The initial lawsuit was filed by the developers in November 2018. A second lawsuit was filed by the developers in April 2021 similar to the first but covering a different timeframe. Since the purpose of Charlotte Water’s system development fees and the extensiveness of our CIP program are fundamentally different than the other cities, Charlotte Water felt confident in the case. However, after four years of litigation, Charlotte Water lost the first suit and made the decision to settle the second to minimize the financial impact to customers.

“Though the City continues to dispute the allegations, a settlement was recommended to avoid further financial risk to all existing customers.”

The settlement, which includes two installments for a total of $106 million dollars, will be spread over two years. The first installment of $90 million, has already been paid for using mainly Charlotte Water reserves moved to take the brunt of the financial impact. The second settlement, $16 million, will be paid through a multi-prong solution of reduced cash flow to current capital investment projects, short-term delays to some projects, reserves, and a proposed additional $0.72/household annually rate increase, taking effect July 1, 2023.

 Legal staff will bring forward during the January 23 Council meeting recommended changes to Chapter 23 of City Code to clarify and further define Charlotte Water revenues and use of funds.

UPDATE: City Council approved the changes during the January 23 Business Meeting.

Additional Pre-Covid Billing Operations to Resume in January 2023

With the new year, there are a few notable changes coming to Charlotte Water (CLTWater). CLTWater has slowly been returning to pre-Covid billing operations, and some of these processes have already been implemented. Beginning January 2023, customers can expect disconnection and reconnection fees ($17 each) to resume.  Also in January, late fees, which are 1.5% of past-due charges, will begin and will appear on February bills.

Charlotte Water continues to look for ways to help customers who need help with their water bills get connected to resources. At the beginning of the pandemic, CLTWater policies were temporarily changed or suspended.  As financial aid programs, CARES Act funding and City grants became available, CLTWater worked closely with community partners like Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services (DSS), Housing and Neighborhood Services, and local non-profits community groups such as DreamKey Partners, Crisis Assistance Ministries and Commonwealth Charlotte, to connect thousands of customers with financial aid assistance.

One such financial assistance program was the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP). This federal program was designed specifically for customers who were in danger of having their water service disconnected due to outstanding balances. To better help residents, CLTWater and DSS met regularly and worked intensely to streamline the process of receiving federal funding and distributing the aid directly to customer accounts who qualified. CLTWater was the only utility in the state to auto-match customers with LIHWAP financial assistance.

By implementing this process, and because of the successful partnership with DSS, thousands of Charlotte-Mecklenburg area residents received financial assistance. In just the first round of funding, CLTWater and DSS allocated more than $1.3 million to CLTWater customers, approximately 19% of all LIHWAP funds distributed statewide. The number of outstanding or delinquent CLTWater accounts at risk of disconnection dropped by the thousands, and more federal funding is expected.

Today, CLTWater and DSS representatives continue to meet weekly to keep the process running smoothing, discussing everything from how people are learning about different aid programs, how many accounts are in need of aid, and the best communication strategies to keep the public informed. By working with DSS, CLTWater customers that are in need of water bill assistance can also learn about other utility assistance and housing assistance programs offered by DSS, such as Low Income Energy Assistance Program.

As CLTWater slowly moves back to normal operations, assistance is still available for customers in need of financial help during this time.  Visit CharlotteWater.org, or call 311, and get connected to a variety of resources. 

A Growing City Means Growing Treatment Plants

When you reflect on jobs that people are passionate about, wastewater treatment plant operators aren’t usually at the top of that list. However, the passion was palpable as I spoke with three employees at the Mallard Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, which is currently undergoing updates and expansion due to our growing community. They have a deep understanding of the importance of the work they are doing in the community and how it contributes to the growth of the area and our current quality of life.

An architect’s rendering of the new influent pump station and equalization tank.

If growth in the area was allowed to outpace the development of the sewer infrastructure, it would cause a very messy problem for the city. Development can only occur where there is the infrastructure to support it. As the University area continues to grow quickly, the infrastructure must be built and updated to meet the increase in demand. Recent studies have shown that for every one million dollars Charlotte Water invests into its utilities and infrastructure, it leads to 17.7 million dollars in economic output. Investment in our infrastructure allows the kind of growth that protects our quality of life.

As such, the Mallard Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant has several updates and additions planned over the next eight years. The original facility was built in 1979 and has been expanded over time. The original buildings are still in operation, but some of the equipment and buildings need to be replaced. By updating the facility, the plant will grow and have increased capacity and efficiency. The current facility handles 12 million gallons per day, however, when all the updates are completed, the plant will be able to handle 16 million gallons per day!

One concern of an expanding wastewater treatment plant for many is the odor. One goal for the updates is to increase odor control so that the plant isn’t a nuisance. As many would imagine, before touring this wastewater treatment plant, I had mentally prepared for a strong odor throughout the facility. However, I was pleasantly surprised that the odor was mostly contained to the part of the facility where the wastewater entered untreated. Throughout the rest of the facility, I wouldn’t have known that I was standing so close to millions of gallons of wastewater.

This is where sewage is strained of larger pieces of garbage before entering the rest of the plant. This equipment is being replaced. It will be covered to help with odor control.
This is the pump house, built in 1979 with various changes made over the years. This building will also be replaced with new pumps and a new building to accommodate the new pumps.

These ad hoc additions over the years left the facility with a mismatch of equipment of assorted sizes and capacities. For example, right now there is an assortment of pumps that have been added over the years of all different sizes. This makes redundancy difficult. Redundancy is the ability of the other pumps to handle the extra flow when one pump is down for maintenance. By replacing the pumps with six new pumps that are all equal in size and capacity, the strain on individual pumps is lessened, and their capacity to handle maintenance issues is increased.

This is the day tank that assists the plant in managing capacity during times of fluctuating flows.

Another portion of this project is the equalization tanks that are being added. One that handles five million gallons and another that can hold 15 million gallons. Throughout the day and night, the flow of sewage coming into the plant varies; the equalization tanks hold flow during the higher flow times to even the flow into the plant. This reduces the strain on the equipment and makes testing more accurate. The smaller tank handles day-to-day variations while the larger tank handles large storms and flooding. These tanks also allow the plant to temporarily shut down sections of the plant for updates and maintenance.

The location of the new equalization tank. Charlotte Water and its contractors will be digging 65 feet under the ground to place the influent pump station which will be adjacent to the equalization tank.

Many systems and buildings within the plant will be touched by at least one phase of the project. There are four phases, with phase one being launched by the end of 2022. Most of the work of phase one will begin in 2023 with plans to be completed by the end of 2026. 

It is easy to ignore or not even consider how much work goes into keeping our city clean and sanitary for the more than one million people (and counting!) who live here. As we continue to grow, we are grateful for the City employees who plan for and accommodate the continued growth of our city. There is a lot of work that goes into planning and sustaining the foundation that keeps Charlotte running.

Veterans Day: Highlighting Our Charlotte Water Veterans

We are grateful for the contribution and sacrifice of Veterans and their families everywhere. We have many Veterans who work for Charlotte Water, and their service is invaluable. This Veterans Day we are highlighting some of our staff members who have shared their insights, experiences, and perspectives they have gained from their service, and the influence it has made on how they work and serve our community today. We appreciate their service and their continued dedication to the community.

William Lee

U. S. Army: 10 years of service; Drill Sergeant (Instructor) 

Current Job:

Field Ops Zone Manager: William is currently responsible for the daily operations and leadership for thirty-five employees in Zone 1 which services three townships and the City of Charlotte. 

What I learned from my service:

“In my experience of serving my country, it allowed me to gather a vast amount of knowledge and skills that were transferable to me becoming a productive citizen and leader in the civilian world.” 

Nathan Kamphaus

United States Coast Guard: 2000-2004 Active; 2004-2008 Reserve 

Current Job

IDS Plans Reviewer: Nathan is responsible for New Service Plan Reviews 

What I learned from my service: 

“For any public service, I think integrity and honesty whether it be with your shipmates or coworkers is the base of a successful career and reputation. Always try to better yourself….no matter how hard any task looks stay positive and you will make it through.” 

Michele Duval

US Air Force: 20 years 

Current Job

Technology Support Specialist: Michele provides technical support for the department. 

What I learned from my service:

“In the Air Force, we are all there to support the jets, the pilots, and their mission. My role in that was tech support and now I am providing tech support for the men and women dedicated to providing clean water to the Charlotte community. I’m very proud to be a part of this.” 

Michele Duval (center)

Mark Goodman

Army: 11 years; Army Reserve: 31 years 

Current Job

Utility Management Systems Manager in CLT Water Technology: Mark is responsible for planning and leading a variety of billing and customer service technology projects and efforts. 

What I learned from my service: 

“I learned how to apply an array of leadership skills in very challenging technical environments.” 

Tamara Byers

US Army

Current Job:

Human Resources Manager for CLT Water

What I learned from my service:

Leadership – I learned how to lead a squad and work with people with all types of backgrounds, attitudes, and personalities. This experience has prepared me for my role as an HR Manager. You have to have confidence in the decisions that you make 

Team player – In the military you always had the “Buddy System”. You need others in order to accomplish a mission. Each person has their own role but collectively we have the confidence to make it happen. 

Adaptability – You have to learn how to adapt in any situation. You learn how to be creative and think outside the box no matter what is thrown at you. This is essential in any job. 

Integrity – Being in the military, you have to adhere to a strict moral code. In my role, being an honest person, trustworthy and dependable is essential to the role I currently hold.” 

Jason Bromirski

Army Reserve: 2009 – present 

Current Job

Senior Engineer in the Field Operations Division: Jason’s group, Strategic Operations Support, provides condition assessments on our sewer infrastructure by testing our sewer lines for blockages.

What I learned from my service:

“The biggest thing I learned is probably remaining calm under pressure. It doesn’t matter if it is a large break in a sewer line that is dumping into a creek or a large water main that has ruptured, remaining calm and thinking through the problem and the steps needed to repair the situation gives other people confidence that we as a team can get things back to normal. Another important piece is constant communication with staff on-site, so they know the plan, our public affairs staff, compliance personnel, Chiefs of Operations, Deputy Directors, and the Director. They all update internal and external entities with current information, and you would rather have that be an information push than an information pull.”

Jason Bromirski (right)

Ron Wallace

US Army and Army Reserves: 23 years; retired 

Current Job

Treatment Plant Maintenance Supervisor: Ron is currently working on Special Projects for the Maintenance Division (Cathodic Protection, Engineer Parcels, and CityWorks).

What I learned from my service:

“I learned how to be patient with people and listen to their concerns.” 

Ron Wallace (right)