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Gainesville may raise water fees

Utility floats idea to replace lost revenues

POSTED: March 28, 2009 11:02 p.m.

Gainesville Public Utilities Department is considering new service charges and raising existing ones following an analysis of the department’s cost of service and months of declining revenue.

The new fees, which hinge on City Council’s approval, include charging customers a $15 fee to apply for water or sewer service and a $2 fee to pay their bills with a credit card.

Existing fees, such as those the utility charges customers for turning their water on or off, also may change.

Utility officials presented a list of recommended fees to council members at a planning workshop over the weekend. The proposed changes come after the department suffered nearly two years of declining revenue and experienced a drop in customers for the first time since 1966.

The decline in revenue, which the department projects to be $10 million less than the $57 million it received in 2007, is attributed to the current restrictions on water use and the lack of activity in the local housing market.

Evidence of the housing market slump is seen in the department’s report that it only expects to sell 240 water meters this year. That is less than 10 percent of the meters sold in 2007.

To make up for the lost revenue, the department has cut most capital spending, trimmed back employee training and left approximately 20 positions vacant.

The department is also looking to recover costs for providing service.

Among other ideas the department proposed to council members is a fee to read meters for other cities of $1 per meter each month.

Gainesville currently provides fewer than 1,000 monthly meter readings for Flowery Branch, which provides sewer to residents of the Sterling on the Lake community and commercial properties around Exit 12 on Interstate 985.

Utility Director Kelly Randall said he expects the utility soon will read meters for Buford and Braselton as well.

The price is based on a similar fee that Etowah Water and Sewer charges for providing meter readings to other entities, Randall said.

The department has proposed doubling the deposit customers required to pay before obtaining service. Gainesville customers and those outside the city limit currently pay a $70 deposit. The department proposes raising that fee to $150 for Gainesville residents and $215 for others, but returning the money after one year of good payment history.

Other minor fee hikes proposed include raising disconnection for nonpayment from $35 to $40; turning on water from $10 to $15; and turning off water from $5 to $10.



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