Water rates for customers of Gainesville Water Resources may be rising every year for the next decade, beginning in 2022.
The Gainesville City Council will vote Tuesday, Oct. 6, on a rate plan that would begin January 2022 and increase 1.9% every year for 10 years.
The extra revenue from the rate hike would be used for capital projects, including improvements to water mains and lift stations, new technology at Flat Creek Water Reclamation Facility, electrical upgrades and sewer extensions in the areas of Athens Highway and Gillsville Highway.
Some of those projects could get funding through loans from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority, which offers loans with an interest rate of 0.13%, Gainesville Water Resources Director Linda MacGregor said.
“It’s $650 million worth of water assets that continue to grow in age, value, number and complexity,” MacGregor said of the water system. “There’s nothing about it that’s getting more simple. It’s getting bigger and more complicated, and the demands of our customers are actually increasing.”
The water department has been facing rising costs such as power and solids handling, and it needs to take care of its aging infrastructure, MacGregor said. About $500,000 a year goes to replacing electrical and controls equipment that has gone out of date and the department cannot get parts for, she said.
“If we don’t do that, then some little teeny thing can keep something really big from working, so we’re dedicated to addressing these challenges,” MacGregor said.
Gainesville Water Resources serves much of Hall County, with customers outside Gainesville city limits paying a higher rate.
MacGregor said the average residential customer uses about 5,000 gallons a month.
The rate change would also establish a “lifeline rate” program, offering the first 2,000 gallons at a discounted rate. That lifeline rate would be $2.72 per 1,000 gallons for customers in the city and $5.17 per 1,000 gallons for people outside the city at the onset of the rate plan.
Rates would gradually increase over the 10 years and vary based on whether the property is inside or outside Gainesville city limits, as well as the amount of water used. There would be four rate tiers, with the first 2,000 gallons under the lifeline rate for residential customers. Then, rates would be grouped into tiers of 2,001 to 5,000 gallons, 5,001 to 8,000 gallons, and more than 8,000 gallons.
Another proposed change would come to the water department’s Help 2 Others (H2O) program, which gives customers the option to round up their bills to the nearest dollar to help other customers in need. Rather than being a voluntary program, customers would be automatically enrolled but could ask to opt out of it.
The rate change would also include bills detailing water use by gallon rather than cubic foot, which most customers can better visualize, MacGregor said Thursday, Oct. 1. According to the city’s rate chart, 100 cubic feet is about 748 gallons of water. Water bills currently list water use with the unit of “ccf,” which is 100 cubic feet.
Each customer, regardless of whether their property is inside or outside the city, also pays a $6.17 service fee each month. That fee would also increase over the 10-year period.
The Gainesville City Council will vote on the new rates at its meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 6 at the Public Safety Complex, 701 Queen City Parkway.