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Gainesville customers still conserving water

POSTED: November 11, 2008 5:00 a.m.

Numbers show that Gainesville residents and businesses are continuing to do their part to conserve water during the ongoing drought.

What remains to be seen, however, is how the conservation efforts and the resulting reduced revenues will impact customers’ water bills next year.

Gainesville’s water customers used significantly less water last month than they did in October 2007, the first month of level four drought restrictions.

In that month, water customers cut their consumption by 9 percent from October 2006. This year, the city’s October average water use receded further despite the utility having 400 more customers than it did last year.

The city’s water revenues were $2 million in October 2007 when water use averaged 17.8 million gallons per day, according to Tina Wetherford, manager of finance and administration for the utility. Wetherford said though the utility does not know the total of water use revenue for October 2008, customers used about 1 million gallons less per day than when the utility made $2 million.

Kelly Randall, director of Gainesville’s Public Utilities Department, said the department made up for the losses in revenue, which was caused by lower water use, by cutting expenses. The utility, like other city departments, is not filling vacant positions this year and cut all capital equipment purchases, Randall said.

The department also mitigated the impact of lower revenues by expecting less, Randall said.

Although the department’s revenue from water sales is lower than in previous years, it is higher than the department projected for the fiscal year, Randall said. For example, the department sold an average of 16.79 million gallons of water per day last month, but only expected to sell 15.82 million gallons, he said.

Gainesville water customers could find out Thursday how much effect water use restrictions could have on their water bills. That’s when Randall will present his recommendation for 2009 water rates to the City Council.

In February, Gainesville Public Utilities officials told council members they expected to raise water rates — which typically is done each year — by 5.5 percent in 2009.

In May, however, the department included a 7 percent increase in water rates when it prepared its 2009 budget, but asked the City Council to look at water rates again in the fall when revenues from summer water sales were clearer.

Although Randall would not divulge his recommendation before he speaks to council members, he said the lower, February projections "were pretty good."

"What’s expected would be that we would come back and recommend something in that range," Randall said. "... I’m very pleased with what I can report to the council on Thursday."

The council will hear Randall’s proposal Thursday and could vote to approve it on Nov. 18.



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