These days, Chris Bowles and his wife are likely using more water than ever. After all, there are extra loads of laundry and plenty of bottles to hand-wash now that their 5-month-old son, Caleb, is in the picture.
And while they've taken care to avoid waste with low-flow faucets and high-efficiency appliances, Bowles says his water and sewer bill from Hallsdale-Powell Utility District routinely matches his electric and gas bill from the Knoxville Utilities Board.
"Recently, (the bill's) been 90 to 100-plus, so, during the course of six to seven years, we've doubled or tripled our bill," Chris Bowles said.
Bowles' concern grew so great this past spring, he decided to create a Facebook page called, "Hallsdale-Powell Utility District - Overpriced WHAT CAN WE DO?"
"It started out of frustration, but then I realized that I would like to give the people a voice, and maybe, with enough people, we can make a difference," Bowles said. "I think it makes it pretty obvious that a lot of people share the same feelings, that they're frustrated, they want answers, they want to know what's going on."
The page already has more than 900 likes, but the complaints have gone further than that.
Officials with the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury Utility Management Review Board say, over the past five years, they have received 42 complaints from customers about high bills.
The leaders at Hallsdale-Powell are well aware of those concerns, too, and they admit their rates are higher than most.
In the 2012 annual utility rate survey, Hallsdale-Powell ranked in the top 10 for residential water rates out of the 30 East Tennessee utility districts surveyed.
Darren Cardwell, president and CEO of the utility district, said the complaints have been coming in since rates began to steadily increase back in 2000.
That's when the district kicked off a major capital improvement plan at a cost of $135 million so far.
Part of that funding, about $2 million, went to a new building to house the main office. Cardwell said the old building dated back to the '60s and would have cost more to repair than replace.
But the vast majority of the money has been spent to improve and fix pipes and pumps that had gone years without needed maintenance as well as to comply with a consent order from the state, mostly focused on much-needed and long-overdue repairs to the wastewater treatment plant.
"We've steadily had to go up in rates because these are unfunded, basically mandates, so we've had basically had to fund everything we've done, and that's kinda what has driven rates to where they're at today," Cardwell said. "Everything we've done has been good projects that's been needed, and it's going into the long-term, into the future, but I know it doesn't help them at the end of the day, they've still got to pay that bill."
Upset customers do have another avenue for their complaints.
If 10 percent of the customers, numbering nearly 29,000 in the Hallsdale-Powell Utility District, sign a petition, the state will conduct a rate study.
Bowles is looking into that option now.
"Hopefully, if we can get that 10 percent and continue to grow the (Facebook) page and get the word out, we can at least get the board or the state to review and make sure we're in line with where we need to be and feel like our voice has been heard," he said.
It's a study Cardwell said he would welcome, adding that his district already has a lot of oversight from the state.
Plus, he said that the days of double-digit percentage rate increases are behind customers.
"We've went through the hard times, as far as the big increases, so I do feel like there is light at the end of the tunnel," he said.