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Hall considers getting Gainesville to do sewer billing

POSTED: April 2, 2013 12:28 a.m.

Hall County officials want the city of Gainesville to take over its sewer billing, similar to the deal Braselton is making with the city.

The issue with the county doing its own billing recently came to a head after angry residents claimed the county overcharged them when new sewer rates took effect.

The Hall County Board of Commissioners approved a credit of $18.97 to South Hall sewer customers last week after Public Works Director Ken Rearden reviewed the errors the county made in billing.

“It is hard to understand and accept that the county has been so remiss in this responsibility,” said Phyllis Mercer, Village at Deaton Creek resident in an email to Commissioner Craig Lutz earlier this month. “It is also distressing that in prior discussion, we were told that the county would forward such communication in the next invoice, but that did not happen.”

The city of Gainesville is close to an agreement to take over sewer billing for the town of Braselton. Gainesville already supplies water service to the town and Braselton provides sewer service. However, if customer accounts fall behind, Braselton has no way to encourage payment. Gainesville can shut off water service if residents don’t pay their bills.

Gainesville also provides water service to much of the county. An arrangement with Gainesville would mean the county would avoid spending a lot of money to enhance its billing department and equipment.

“Gainesville can do it cheaper,” said Richard Mecum, chairman of the Hall County Board of Commissioners. “My only concern is you do it and you do it right.”

If Braselton and Hall County strike a deal with Gainesville, the city would bill residential, commercial and industrial water and sewer customers a per unit 100 cubic feet charge of 748 gallons. The city would give the payments to the local governments on a quarterly basis, minus 3 percent for administering the entire billing system.

Don Dye, Gainesville Public Utilities assistant director, said the 3 percent is just to cover operational costs; it’s not intended as a source of revenue.

Gainesville would charge the Northeast Georgia Medical Center Braselton off Thompson Mill Road 3 percent up to a monthly cap of 400 ccf in exchange for allowing Gainesville to install an antenna on the elevated storage tank at 5527 Thompson Mill Road.

While Rearden sounded confident at the commission meeting last Thursday that Gainesville will take over the billing, County Administrator Randy Knighton said it’s not a done deal until commissioners approve an intergovernmental agreement. But the plan would benefit the county, Knighton said.

“It’s just another example of the city and county working very closely together and working very well together,” Knighton said.

Hall County adopted new sewer rates in December of last year. Instead of a $42 flat rate, it now charges a $2 customer service charge, a $15 capacity charge and a usage charge of $3.50.

The rates were approved to go into effect Jan. 1, but Hall County officials didn’t realize they billed sewer one month ahead, Rearden’s presentation said.

On Feb. 28, the commission voted to retroactively start the new rates on Dec. 18 to fall in line with Gainesville water meter readings and issue a credit of $7.67.

Some residents said they were overbilled $18.97 for December and the amount of the credit became a cause for debate because while residents understood the vote to mean all the new charges became effective in December, county staff understood that just the per-unit-charge was retroactive. Some residents held a meeting earlier this month with Mecum and other county commissioners and staff.

“When mistakes happen, you should take action promptly,” Mercer said. “That didn’t happen here.”


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