Oconee County water and sewer customers likely will get a reprieve, at least temporarily, from the annual water and sewer rate increases of recent years.
Oconee County Utility Department Director Wayne Haynie told the Board of Commissioners at a budget hearing last week that he is not asking for a rate increase as part of his budget request.
Haynie did say, however, that he would be coming back before the commissioners in several months with results of the rate and fee study underway, and the commissioners could revisit the possibility of rate increases at that time.
The Board of Commissioners last year approved water and sewer rate increases of 3 percent, the eighth year in a row of increases in water rates and the seventh year in a row for increases in the rates for sewer customers.
Haynie’s presentation on April 13 was during the final of three days of budget hearings, and he said, “we’re not going up on any fees–at this point.”
The Board of Commissioners held a work session today to go over those presentations but took no action on them.
The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to hold its first public hearing on the Fiscal Year 2016 budget on May 31 and its second hearing on the budget on June 7.
Following that second hearing, the BOC is to adopt at that same meeting the budget for the fiscal year starting on July 1.
Haynie also reviewed with the BOC at the April 13 meeting estimates of costs for what he expects to propose as part of the Fiscal Year 2017 Water and Sewer Improvements (WASI) Plan.
Included are $4.4 million in spending for water system improvements and $10.3 million in sewer system improvements. Much of the money for these comes from Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue.
The largest item on the water side is $2.4 million for a 1 million gallon water tower somewhere in the county.
The largest items on the sewer side is $5.7 million for the new Calls Creek wastewater treatment plant.
That $5.7 million is only for Fiscal Year 2017.
The plan calls for spending $164,000 in the current fiscal year on the Calls Creek replacement plant and $1.7 million next year, for a total cost of $7.6 million when the project is completed in Fiscal Year 2018.
Calls Creek Sewer Line
Haynie’s draft WASI budget includes $85,000 in spending in Fiscal Year 2017 for the proposed 24-inch gravity fed sewer line down the Calls Creek corridor.
Of that, $75,000 is for engineering and design and $10,000 is for easement acquisition.
The current budget includes $30,000 for survey and design work on the project.
The Friends of Calls Creek, which has led opposition to the project, has called a meeting for 7 p.m. on April 28 in the Oconee County Library for further discussion.
Epps Bridge Pump Upgrade
The proposed WASI budget includes $2.4 million for construction of the McNutt Creek sewer line from Jimmy Daniell Road to SR Loop 10.
That is part of the plans to shift the flow of sewage to the Calls Creek plant from the county’s overburdened Land Application System site on Rocky Branch Road.
The plan also includes $1.3 million for an upgrade to the pump station at McNutt Creek and Epps Bridge Parkway.
That pump is an essential part of the plan to direct the flow of sewage from Bogart and the McNutt Creek basin to the expanded Calls Creek plant.
Middle Oconee Plant
The county’s sewage master plan calls for the sewage from Bogart and the commercial center surrounding Epps Bridge Parkway to continue to flow down a proposed line along McNutt Creek and then the Middle Oconee River to a plant on the Middle Oconee River.
The county has not built that line along McNutt Creek or the plant on the Middle Oconee River.
The pump at Epps Bridge Parkway and the proposed pipeline down Calls Creek are being developed as alternatives.
Haynie told me in an email message today that the county still needs one easement for the pump station at Epps Bridge Parkway and related sewer line and that he hope to be able to let a contract on that project in July or August of this year.
Utility Budget Details
The Utility Department Budget that Haynie submitted shows $9.1 million in revenue and the same level of expenditure. The proposed budget last year was $8.5 million
The income chart shows $6.1 million in water sales and $1.4 million from sewage treatment fees. The remainder of the income comes from other fees and a small amount of interest.
Haynie is expecting a 3 percent increase in water and sewer revenue this year, he told the commissioners, allowing him to balance the budget without proposing an increase in rates.
The largest expenditure in the budget is $3.2 million for debt service, with $1.4 million of that for the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir now filling in Walton County.
At present, neither Oconee County nor Walton County, partners in the project, need the water from that reservoir.
On March 1, the Board of Commissioners approved a request by Haynie to spend $52,700 with Professional Resource Management Group Inc. from Maitland, Fla., for a water and sewer rate study.
The goal is to make sure the rates represent the actual costs of water provision and sewer treatment.
Haynie cautioned at the budget hearing last week that he could be asking for water and sewer rate increases once he has the findings from that study in hand.
BOC Chairman Melvin Davis asked him to repeat that statement, giving warning that the reprieve in the string of rate increases could be temporary.
I could not attend the April 13 budget hearing.
Sarah Bell did, and she recorded the video below.
The presentation by Haynie is at the front of the video.
The clip above is taken from this longer video.