Oak Island town officials are asking for the public’s patience with the changes to utility bills that went into effect in July. Homeowners in particular need to understand that in addition to rate changes, the town has made a significant change in how it bills for the annual sewer district fee.

The town has lowered usage rates for water and sewer but has also in effect started billing all customers for the annual sewer district fee. Previously, owners of occupied dwellings received a credit equal to the amount of the annual fee, which was $803.82. This meant that, as a practical matter, only owners of undeveloped lots paid the annual sewer district fee.

Now, the town has lowered the fee to $601.78. The big difference is that all property owners have to pay it, not just those with vacant lots.

July’s utility bills included a letter outlining the change, but it has still caused some confusion. On a single day last week, customer service representatives at Town Hall fielded 128 calls about the changes.

Fee changes

The biggest beneficiaries from the change are owners of undeveloped lots, estimated to number 2,000. Previously, they paid a sewer district fee of $803.82 a year. Now, their annual sewer district fee is $601.78, the same as for homeowners.

Town manager David Kelly said the sewer district fee goes toward paying the debt on the system. It has been in place since 2010, when the system was expanded.

What the roughly 9,500 active customers need to know is that the sewer district fee is not specifically included in the monthly utility bill. Just like property taxes, the fee is due on January 7, 2019.

Homeowners can specify that a portion of their monthly payments go toward the sewer district fee or they can chose to pay it all at once or in advance, Kelly said.

As with property taxes, sewer district fees not paid by January 7, 2019, are subject to an interest penalty of two-percent, said town tax collector Katie Coleman. Every month, the unpaid balance is subject to an additional interest penalty of 0.75-percent until paid.

Town officials recommend that homeowners who have mortgages check with their lenders or escrow account managers about paying the sewer district fee separately, if they chose to do so. Paying the fee separately could, in some cases, help keep monthly charges to a minimum.

Mayor Cin Brochure said Tuesday she expects town council to discuss a possible policy for payment options on the sewer district fee. She added, however, that individual homeowners are still responsible for making sure the fee is paid in a timely manner.

Rate changes

Brunswick County slightly lowered the rates it charges Oak Island for water and sewer, and while Oak Island expanded the sewer district fee, it also lowered its usage rates.

The biggest winners are high-volume water and sewer customers. After taking the sewer district fee into account, a customer who uses 6,000 gallons of water and sewer a month will realize an annual savings of $279.89

A customer who uses 4,000 gallons a month will save $28.23 a month. Low-volume customers who use the minimal amount of water—2,000 gallons or less per month—will pay an additional $1.54 a year.

Kelly said the town did not change the rate structure and made the reductions across the board, so people who spend the most stand to realize the most savings.