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Citizen steamed over higher water prices

POSTED: December 30, 2007 5:03 a.m.
GAINESVILLE — One woman told Gainesville City Council members that after a rise in property taxes and gas prices, the new water rates are an unfair attempt at raising revenue.

At Tuesday’s Gainesville City Council meeting, Eileen Feeley, 5622 Nags Head Circle, said the tiered water rates, dubbed "conservation pricing," do not take into consideration households with larger families.

"I just feel the tiered rates are unfair to a lot of people, and it’s going to cause a lot of people a lot of pain," Feeley said. "There’s a lot of us who that increase is going to affect a lot with all the other prices that are going up."

The new pricing schedule, which goes into effect Jan. 1, charges different rates according to a customer’s water use; the rate increases with usage that rises above 10 cubic feet and again when it goes beyond 18 cubic feet.

Feeley lives outside the city limits with two other people, three dogs and two cats. All together, the members of Feeley’s household use about 11 cubic feet of water per month. Now, she is paying about $40.26 per month for water, but in January, she will pay nearly three dollars more per month for her water, according to the water bill calculator on the city of Gainesville Web site.

If Feeley lived inside the Gainesville city limits, she would be paying half as much for her water, according to the calculator. The calculator shows how the new pricing system will affect a customer’s bill, comparing the current bill and projecting the future.

Feeley said she called Gainesville’s Public Utilities department to ask about the new pricing plan, and was told that the department was teaching her to conserve water.

"To tell me that you were going to teach me conservation by increasing my rates is really a wrong attitude for a City Council," Feeley said. "Teaching shouldn’t be punitive, it should be informative."

City Manager Bryan Shuler told Feeley that higher prices can be an incentive to conserve.

"An economist will debate with you whether or not pricing affects behavior," Shuler said. "Irregardless of what the city would want to do about it, the city was required to adopt a water conservation pricing plan."

The Metro North Georgia Water Planning District required all 16 counties in the Metro Atlanta area to develop a water conservation pricing plan. Gainesville was one of the last to develop its pricing plan, Shuler said.

"The city took its time, we looked carefully at our customer base and tried to ease our way into a water conservation pricing structure," Shuler said.

Council adopted the conservation rates as part of the city’s budget in June. The rates, however, are not supposed to go into effect until next month.

Shuler said the council will continue to look at how to make the pricing plan better in the future.

"One of the issues with this rate structure ... it does not necessarily take into account the size of someone’s family, it looks at the amount of water that you use," Shuler said.

"A larger water user will pay a higher rate under this, irregardless of whether there’s any discretionary water use," Shuler said. "There was a lot of discussion and a lot of debate about the appropriateness of that on this council and among the staff."

After the meeting, Feeley said she was dissatisfied with the response she got from the council, and most of what she heard were pat answers.

"I didn’t really expect anything so that was good," Feeley said. "Because (with) no expectations, you don’t get let down."

"I don’t feel that they gave an answer that said ‘yeah, we looked at several plans,’" she said.



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