Saturday, March 29, 2014

Oconee County Water and Sewer Rates To Increase Again If Commissioners Approve Utility Department Request

About 3 Percent Jump

Water and sewer customers in Oconee County will pay about 3 percent more in fees starting July 1 if the Board of Commissioners approves the budget request presented by Utility Department Director Chris Thomas earlier this month.

The water rate increase would be the seventh in as many years for the county, and the sewer rate increase would be the sixth in six years.

Thomas told the Board the rate increases were the minimum he could ask for and feels “barely comfortable” that he can meet expenses if they are approved.

Those expenses include an increase of 8.5 percent in debt service, including a more than doubling of debt payments for the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir now under construction in Walton County.

Water Rates Discounted

Thomas proposed that customers using less than 1,000 gallons of water per month would get a discount of $2.50, rather than the current discount of $2, keeping the rate for these customers unchanged at $17.

The nondiscounted rate increase for that first 1,000 gallons of water would be 2.6 percent, or $19.50 per 1,000 gallons, but the next 1,000 gallons of water would cost $4.93, up from $4.79 at present, or an increase of 2.9 percent. (The video below explains the increase.)

Few customers get by with the minimal amount of water, and customers using 2,000 gallons of water per month would pay $24.43 starting in the new fiscal year, compared with $23.79 at present, or 2.7 percent more.

Last year, the county increased the rate for the first 1,000 gallons of water by 5.6 percent and for the next 1,000 gallons by 3.5 percent.

New Sewer Category

Under Thomas’ proposal, the basic residential sewer rate on July 1 would go from $21.32 for up to 2,000 gallons of treatment to $21.96, for an increase of 3.0 percent.

Commercial users would pay $36.96 for up to 2,000 gallons of effluent, up 3.0 percent from the current rate of $35.88.

The county would add a new industrial rate of $50 for up to 2,000 gallons of flow. He said industrial waste costs more to treat than either residential or even commercial waste.

Residential sewer rates increased by 4 percent last year.

Increases Expected In Future

Thomas told the Board (in the video above) that he expects to be asking for “steady increases in rates” in the future to keep up with expenses.

The overall budget of just more than $7.8 million that Thomas presented to the BOC at the budget hearing on March 19 was up 5.1 percent from his approved budget for the current fiscal year.

Of that increase of $378,191, debt service made up $274,293. Thomas explains the debt service in the video clip below.

That $274,293 increase in debt service includes an increase in $274,000 in payment for debt for the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir.

Thomas told the Board that the water and sewer services his department offers are an integral part of the county’s efforts to diversify its tax base by enticing industry and commercial development.

The expense of the infrastructure upgrades is not shared across the county, however, but are paid only by water and sewer customers.

To build a treatment plant at Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir and begin distributing water from that plant, the county will have to borrow additional money.

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