Saturday, March 21, 2015

Oconee County Water And Sewer Rates To Increase By 3 Percent If Budget Request Is Approved

Debt Service Plays Role

Oconee County water and sewer customers will pay an additional 3 percent in rates starting on July 1 if the Board of Commissioners accepts the budget proposed by Public Utilities Director Chris Thomas.

Thomas told the commissioners at a budget hearing on Wednesday evening that he would like to keep the rate the same for those who use the minimum amount of water, but rates for everyone else would go up.

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If the commissioners approve the budget request, it would be the eighth year in a row in the county for a water rate increase and the seventh year in a row for an increase in sewer rates.

The rate increase is necessary, Thomas told the Board, in part because of increased debt service, including for the ongoing construction of the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir in southeastern Walton County.

Increased Revenue

Thomas told the Board that he is projecting he will bring in $6 million in water sales and $1.4 million from treatment of sewage in fiscal year 2015-2016, up from $5.4 million and $1.1 million respectively in his current budget.

The new revenue is necessary for the Utility Department to be able to balance its proposed $8.6 million budget, an increase of 9.3 percent from the $7.9 million fiscal year 2014-2015 budget.

In the video clip below, Thomas explains the basics of the rates increases for water customers, as the commissioners look on.

OCO: Thomas On Rate IncreaseBOC Budget 3 18 15 Rate Increase from Lee Becker on Vimeo

As of the end of February, the county had 9,784 water customers and 2,034 sewer customers, Jenanne White, administrative assistant in the Utility Department, told me via an email message on Friday.

Typical Customer

A typical residential customer uses about 5,000 gallons of water per month in the summer months, Thomas told the Board.

That amount of water will cost $41.42 starting on July 1 if the rates are increased. At present, that amount of water cost $40.20.

In the early summer of 2011, a residential customer using 5,000 gallons of water would have paid $34.30.

The rate of increase from fiscal year 2011 to fiscal year 2016 is 20.8 percent.

Residential water rates are tiered, with those using more water paying more per gallon.

The minimum residential water bill will $17 in fiscal year 2015-2016, the same as this year, if the rate increase is approved.

Debt Service

Debt service for bonds for water and sewer projects went from $3.5 million to $3.7 million from the 2014-2015 fiscal year to the 2015-2016 fiscal year, or an increase of 6.5 percent.

The largest item on the debt service list is for the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir now under construction in Walton County. Walton and Oconee counties are partners in the project.

In the current fiscal year, that debt service is costing Oconee County $1.4 million. It will cost just less next year, as the county will pay less in interest.

The county will have to borrow additional money to build a water treatment plant and distribution facilities to actually get water from the reservoir, which is projected to reach full pool in 2017.

Budget Hearings

Thomas was followed in Wednesday's budget hearings by representatives of Operations, Fleet Maintenance, the Parks and Recreation Department, the Finance Department, and Administration.

The BOC held sessions on Monday evening and all day on Tuesday to get budget requests from other county's departments, from the courts, and from the other county elected officials.

Citizens were not given a chance to participate in those hearings, but the BOC will hold a public hearing on the proposed Fiscal Year 2015-2016 budget at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, May 16.

The final vote on the budget is scheduled for the regular meeting of the BOC on June 2. That meeting starts at 7 p.m.

The full video of the Wednesday night session is here.


Xardox said...

Another rate increase?
With all the talk about new business bringing relief with a wider "tax base," one must after some arithmetic that Oconee has a spending problem rather than an income one.
So where is the leak?

Anonymous said...

"If the commissioners approve the budget request, it would be the eighth year in a row in the county for a water rate increase and the seventh year in a row for an increase in sewer rates."

This is not sustainable. When is enough enough? The Commissioners cannot continue to increase fees every single year without pushback. Shame on them!

Anonymous said...

Still can't fathom as to why we are building a water supply so far away? Now we also have to pay to build the facilities to get the water here seperate from the original cost? This has become idiocy at its best.