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Gainesville to decide water, sewer rates
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The Gainesville City Council will cast its final vote today on the rates customers of city water and sewer facilities will pay in 2010.

Since 2007, water rates have risen higher than the normal annual increase of 4 percent. Gainesville Public Utilities Department’s revenues were hit first by drought-imposed limits on water use and then by the economic recession.

The proposed water rates for 2010 are 5.5 percent higher than current rates; sewer rates would increase by 6 percent. The council gave initial approval to the rates on Nov. 17, and the final vote is slated for today’s 5:30 p.m. City Council meeting.

Gainesville City Councilman George Wangemann voted against the proposed increase Nov. 17, asking the council to consider a more modest increase until the economy improves.

But according to Tina Wetherford, the department’s finance and administration manager, the 2010 proposed rate increase is smaller than it was for 2008 or 2009.

Though water rates will increase by 5.5 percent, same as last year, sewer rates are rising at a slower rate. When the council approved 2009 sewer rates, the result was an 8.5 percent increase for customers living inside and outside of the city.

Depending on monthly water usage, customers inside the city limits can expect an increase of 92 cents to $6.75. Customers outside the city, who typically are not connected to sewer services, will likely see bills go up between 88 cents and $4.20.

During the past two years, the department has cut spending and relied more heavily on cash for larger projects such as its replacement of water and sewer lines rather than incurring more debt, Wetherford said.

The changes have helped keep the need for rate increases at a minimum, Wetherford said.

"I know that they would go out and get some GEFA (Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority) funding, and the last couple of years we’ve actually paid for those projects," Wetherford said.

Since 2007, the department has limited capital purchases, cut back on training and travel expenses and pushed construction projects further into the future, Wetherford said.

"We’re not getting any new trucks, any new backhoes, you know. Some of that is going to be necessary later, but for now, it was ... only what was absolutely necessary," Wetherford said.

Department employees also have not had a raise in two years, and earlier in the year the department eliminated a number of vacant positions and laid off three employees.

"We worked really, really hard so that we did not have to have a bigger increase," Wetherford said. "...We don’t want to have a big impact on our customers."

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