Gainesville Public Utilities Director Kelly Randall is recommending no increase in water and sewer rates next year as sales and revenues outperform expectations.
It’s a sign that new commercial and residential development is beginning to take hold.
“Really that’s because of a couple of things,” Randall said. “One is our water and sewer sales have just been better because the economy is turning around.”
Sales of water meters and sewer taps also have increased.
“Frankly, it’s the first time I’ve ever done that since I’ve been here,” Randall said about recommending no increase. He became director in 1999.
And Randall said refinancing bond debt and a little belt tightening also helped improve the fiscal picture for the public
Conservation also plays a role. While water usage is up, per capita usage is actually down, Mayor Danny Dunagan said. “We’re very pleased not to have to raise rates again this year,” he added.
Last year, Randall initially proposed a 2.25 percent increase in the water rate and a 1.25 percent increase in the sewer rate, the start of a long volley between city council members over how much to charge customers.
Then the council deadlocked on a later proposal to raise water rates just 1 percent.
Councilmen George Wangemann and Sam Couvillon joined Dunagan in opposing the water rate increase, while members Ruth Bruner, Bob Hamrick and Myrtle Figueras voted in favor of the increase.
Those in favor of the increase expressed concern about the lost revenue.
Those opposing the increase, meanwhile, feared higher rates might inhibit new residential and commercial growth.
The council broke the impasse with a 4-1 vote to leave water rates unchanged and raise the account service fee 85 cents.
The monthly fee, which covers the cost of reading meters, sending bills and related customer service issues, increased to $5.10 from $4.25.
Randall said he is considering recommending another hike in the fee. It is still $1.07 short of paying for itself, he added.
With an additional increase, Randall said he may not have to recommend water and sewer rate increases in the coming years.
Currently, Randall said, he is proposing a 2 percent increase for both services in 2017 and beyond.
But with improving water sales comes the consideration of actually cutting rates.
“That did enter my mind,” said Couvillon, before adding, “I don’t know that we’re there yet.”
The public utilities department has some capital equipment spending needs. Couvillon said he’d rather hold the line now while the economy still finds its footing.
“I don’t think we need to get too far going in the other direction,” he said. “But if you have a couple of years of unexpected good sales, then yes, I would say at some point that it would be great to bend back the curve to give people a little break.”