Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Oconee County Utility Department Director Proposes Water and Sewer Rate Increases

Base Rate Up 3 Percent

Oconee County water and sewer rates, which have gone up each of the last three years, will go up again this year if the Board of Commissioners approves the budget request submitted tonight by Utility Department Director Chris Thomas.

The rate increases would be more modest than those proposed last year, and Thomas termed them an adjustment that simply reflected his increased costs of running the Utility Department.

Thomas said he anticipates making similar requests for 3 to 4 percent increases in water and sewer rates in future years

Thomas said even larger increases will be needed at some point in the near future to fund infrastructure improvements that have been covered in the recent past by the fees developers paid to the county.

With the slowdown in development, those funds are no longer available for infrastructure upgrades and expansion, he said.

If the Board accepts the proposed rates, residential users who use the minimum of 1,000 gallons per month will pay $17, rather than the current $16.50, or an increase of 3.0 percent.

The second 1,000 gallons per month of water would cost $4.63, rather than the current $4.50, or an increase of 2.9 percent.

The basic sewer rate for a residential customer would go from $19.50 to $20.50, representing an increase of 5.1 percent.

Base Rate Held Constant for 2012

Thomas proposed a base water rate increase of 6.1 percent last year, but that increase was scaled back before passage of a final budget.

In the end, the base rate did not increase, though the other rates did. The increase for use of the second 1,000 gallons per month of water, for example, went up from $4.25 to $4.50, or 5.9 percent.

Thomas said as he began his presentation tonight that he was scaling back his initial request of an across-the-board rate increase of 3.6 percent in response to complaints he already had received from Board members.

He said shifting the increases to those who use large amount of water does have a downside. When droughts or heavy rains cause people to stop using water for irrigation, his revenues fall, he said.

The rate increases were part of a $7.3 million budget for the Utility Department, up from $7.1 for the current fiscal year.

Thomas reported an increase of 13 percent in the cost of supplies and of 2 percent in debt service expenses, including for the unbuilt Hard Labor Creek Reservoir in Walton County. The other parts of his budget actually showed declines.

The Utility Department presentation was part of the final day of budget presentations by the county’s departments and constitutional officers. The presentations began on Monday evening, continued through yesterday and ended this evening.

None of the budget information was available to the public.

Thomas and his colleagues went through their budget requests and responded to questions from the commissioners, who had the requests in binders on their desks.

Finance Director Jeff Benko told the commissioners at the end of the session tonight that he still did not have revenue estimates for the fiscal year beginning on July 1.

He told me after the meeting he also has not tallied up the requests, which changed as the department heads and officers made their cases to the commissioners.

He did say that since the BOC has made significant cuts to county spending in recent years, he does not anticipate the kinds of mismatches between revenue and requests that have occurred in recent years.

The first public hearing on a final budget will be held on May 8. The Board is scheduled to adopt the budget at its meeting on May 29.


Anonymous said...

Suggest you let your readers know the amount of the debt service cost for the HLC project. That is how the amount that current water and sewer customers are paying for that "project"

Lee Becker said...

As I indicated in the story, details of the budget were not released. Thomas was able to give me a listing of fees and a broad summary sheet for the budget. What is here comes from those documents. I have asked for the full budget. When I have details I will post them. Stories searchable here detail last years budget with a breakdown of debt service costs.

Lee Becker said...

Here is the link to the story from last year: