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City taking a microscope to utility costs, fees
Mayor: Study a good way to see if current approach is equitable
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Residents who purchase Gainesville water in the future may be paying more fees for it.

Depending on a proposed future study, the city’s Public Utilities Department may charge its customers for paying with credit cards, applying for service and for customers in other cities having their water meters read by Gainesville employees each month.

Tina Wetherford, manager of finance and administration for the department, asked the Gainesville City Council to approve a contracted study that will analyze how much it costs the department to provide each of its services, from processing a customer’s application for service to turning off that customer’s water when he or she moves to a different house.

The findings of the study, which would be conducted by Jordan Jones & Goulding, could result in more kinds of fees and affect the amount customers would pay for those various services.

Currently, the department absorbs costs associated with allowing customers to pay their water and sewer bills online. Creating a fee for customers who pay by credit card would help the utility to recuperate the cost of those merchant fees, "which is a pretty good bit of money right now," Wetherford said.

Wetherford said the proposed $96,000 study will help the department determine if existing fees are what they should be compared to what the department pays to provide the services associated with those fees.

For example, Jordan, Jones & Goulding will determine whether or not the deposit that new customers pay is actually equal to what the department’s loss would be if a customer did not pay for service.

"We want to see if it’s equitable or not for what it’s actually costing us to go out and do the service," Wetherford said.

Wetherford told the council that the utility usually does a cost-of-service analysis every three to five years, but the last one had not been done since 2002. Since then, the utility has changed the way it charges customers for their water use, added various user fees and changed its connection fees.

If this year’s study warrants more fees, Wetherford said those fees could come into effect as early as January 2009 if the council approved them.

Mayor Myrtle Figueras indicated the study was a good way to find out if costs and fees are equitable "so we can know and not guess."

"This is not what’s getting ready to happen; it’s getting ready to be studied by JJ&G," Figueras said

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