Water and sewer customers of Gainesville Public Utilities are likely to see another rate hike in 2013.
Gainesville Public Utilities staff recommended a 3 percent increase in water rates and a 3.5 percent increase in sewer rates to Gainesville City Council over the weekend at the annual utilities department workshop.
Those rates could go to City Council for a vote this summer. New rates take effect each January.
Mayor Danny Dunagan said City Council could seek a smaller increase, but doubted it would change much.
The proposed rate increases account for rises in energy and water-treatment chemical costs, said Public Utilities Director Kelly Randall. It also works toward paying off past debt and preparing future infrastructure projects.
The silver lining, city officials say, is that those increases won’t be quite as steep as previously predicted.
“I wish we could have no rate increases — I’m speaking for myself and for other people who are struggling through these hard economic times — but that’s not very realistic,” said City Councilman George Wangemann.
Wangemann and other City Council members with public utility staff met over the weekend at Brasstown Valley Resort in Young Harris to discuss in detail the department’s budget, current and future projects and other elements that are factored into proposed water and sewer rates.
So what would those proposed increases mean to water bills if passed?
The utilities department projects that the average city household currently pays about $85.95 a month for its utility bill, which includes water, sewer and trash. Proposed increases to water and sewer rates would raise bills by about $1.85.
Average noncity customers, who are charged twice as much for water as city residents but typically don’t use city sewer service, could see an increase of about 84 cents because of increased water rates.
However, the department is also reducing its monthly servicing fee for noncity residents from $6.44 to $4 by January 2013.
Because of that, Randall projects that average, noncity water customers could actually spend $1.60 less per bill in 2013.
When coming up with proposed rates, Randall said the department employs a computer model that accounts for capital projects, projected operating budgets, estimates of potential growth in customer base and sales and other factors. Those numbers are run again by civil engineering firm Jordan, Jones and Goulding for independent verification.
In addition to next year’s increase, the model also projects rates in the future. Current predictions show continued incremental hikes of 4 and 5 percent for the next five years.
However, Randall also points out that the current proposed rate is less than what the department had projected in years past. In 2011, the department predicted a 5 percent water increase for 2013.
Leading up to its proposed rates, the department presented a projected fiscal year 2013 budget of $61.6 million — with the large majority of that covered by water and sewer revenues.
About $21.4 million of that is budgeted to pay for debt from past infrastructure projects.
That budget is still just a draft, and City Council won’t vote on it until this summer.
Other factors in the rates were future capital projects like moving pipe required when the Georgia Department of Transportation widens a road. The city is also preparing to build a facility to draw water at Cedar Creek Reservoir.
However that project, which is still pending the outcome of a disagreement with Hall County, has yet to get a green light.