BOC Questions Rate
The Oconee County Utility Department has proposed increases in water and sewage fees beginning on July 1 that–if approved by the Board of Commissioners–would increase the base fee for monthly residential water use from $16.50 to $19 and the base monthly residential sewer fee from either $12.48 or $15.48 to $18.
The increases are necessary, according to Utility Department Director Chris Thomas, to cover the increased costs for operation of the department, including the cost of retirement of debt for water and sewage capacity expansion.
Commissioners Jim Luke and Chuck Horton asked Thomas at the budget hearings on April 14, when the rate increase proposal was announced, to try to find a way of increasing revenues without increasing the base water rate itself.
Thomas said he would try.
Last year, Thomas asked the commissioners to approve an increase in the base water rate from $14.04 to $18.50, but the commissioners reduced the increase to the $16.50 figure. Thomas told the Board that he was merely seeking this year to get the rate increase he had asked for but been denied a year earlier.
The base rate is what the 8,700 commercial and residential water customers pay for the first 2,000 gallons of water used, and customers pay that amount whether they use 1 or 2,000 gallons.
For residential users, water rates increase in steps after that base rate. Under the proposal submitted by Thomas, residential customers would pay 5 percent more next year than this for water used beyond the base amount.
For example, customers using between 2,001 and 5,000 gallons per month would pay $4.10 per 1,000 gallons over the base 2,000 gallons, up from $3.90 at present.
Commercial customers would pay $5.15 per 1,000 gallons beyond the base 2,000, up from $4.90. The rate stays the same for commercial users regardless of amount of water used.
Sewer users now pay different rates depending on which sewage plant treats the waste, and under the new rate schedule the differences would be eliminated.
The base rate of $18 for residential users would cover treatment for 2,000 of sewage, with additional treatment at $3.70 per 1,000 gallons, up from the current rates of either $3.22 or $2.84.
Commercial sewage customers would pay $30 for from 0 to 2,000 gallons under the new rate, up from either $22.51 or $25.51. Commercial rates for treatment beyond that base level would be at $4.05 per 1,000 gallons, up from $2.84 or $3.52.
Thomas had proposed sewage rate increases last year, and those were approved by the Board as requested. Residential rates increased from $12.48 to $15.48.
The county only has about 1,200 sewage customers.
On April 1, 2008, the Utility Department increased water rates, but only for those using more than 5,000 gallons per month.
The overall budget for the Utility Department that Thomas proposed increased from $5,549,676 in fiscal year 2010 to $6,385,676 for fiscal year. That included an increase in service on debt of from $445,000 in the current fiscal year to 880,099 in the upcoming fiscal year.
At the April 14 meeting, Thomas said the increased debt was the result in part of the county’s decision to partner with Walton County on the Hard Labor Creek reservoir.
When the Hard Labor Creek reservoir was proposed, proponents said debt would be covered by the sale of water to new customers rather than by existing customers.
The water and sewer customers will pay dearly for the mismanagement of the utility department by the Davis administration in the past 8 years. The Walton County project will be financial albatross for the county for many years. Eventually it will soak up significant portions of the sales tax revenue. Already the County is using SPLOST funds for things such as water line extensions that would have been paid with revenue from water and sewer sales if not for the need to service the $19.5M in debt for the Walton project. Only 2 current commissioners voted for the project, Davis and Luke.
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