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Hall County commissioners approve new sewer rates
Changes go into effect Jan. 1; board also approves Clermont Gym renovations
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The Hall County Board of Commissioners made several decisions as it worked through a packed agenda at the board’s last meeting of 2012. The commissioners also said goodbye to Board Chairman Tom Oliver and Commissioner Ashley Bell.

The commissioners adopted new sewer rates after a fierce and surprising debate. County residents at the meeting remained divided on the rates as well, applauding and grumbling as commissioners and residents praised one plan or criticized another.

The commission voted 3-2 on the sewer proposal, with Oliver and Commissioner Billy Powell voting against. The county’s new sewer rates, which take effect Jan. 1, change from a flat rate to a variable rate based on usage. The county will charge a $2 customer service fee, a $15 capacity charge and a $3.50 commodity charge. The commodity fee charges per ccf,  or 100 cubic feet, which equals 748 gallons. The plan caps residential use at 10 ccf.

The plan commissioners approved was proposed by Commissioner Craig Lutz. Powell also presented a plan which would have decreased the capacity charge to $4 and increased the commodity charge to $6.

Residents of the Deaton Creek neighborhood spoke against the plan proposed by Lutz, saying the commissioner had created a proposal that would financially benefit himself. Lutz said the sewer plan was fair and the culmination of a campaign promise he made two years ago. He said the plan would save 429 residents of Deaton Creek more than $30,000 in sewer charges while Powell’s plan would save them more than $2,400. Lutz declined to comment after the meeting.

“So not only is the Powell plan reckless, it’s also punitive to those that it was meant to protect,” Lutz said. “In conclusion, I commit to the people who are on the system that I’m going to continue to fight for ways to reduce expense on the plan so we can (find) other ways to ease the burdens on the residents.”

Powell said, “I was simply trying to give people an alternative and it was recommended by staff. I’m sorry if it was interpreted as that. It was simply meant to give somebody an option. Ken’s (Rearden, the county’s public works and utilities director) a pretty smart guy. I trusted his numbers.”

The commissioners celebrated the fact that the county had a balance in its general fund of $14.9 million and voted to end the furloughs and to restart the county’s match of employee retirement plans. They also approved spending $525,000 to renovate the Clermont Gym, where the city’s residents created their own library after a park and media center were built on Nopone Road instead of in the town. Powell voted against, suggesting commissioners postpone the vote for 30 days to review special purpose local option sales tax projects and existing funds.

The board also approved a settlement in a lawsuit that the city of Lula had filed against it. Details weren’t immediately available.

At the end of the meeting, board members spoke about their journey together as a board as Bell and Oliver reminisced. County Administrator Randy Knighton presented them and their families with plaques and flowers. Former Hall County Sheriff Dick Mecum will replace Oliver, and Jeff Stowe replaces Bell.

“I really think that our goal on this commission is to move the county forward,” Oliver said. “I felt that as chairman I felt it was my responsibility to bring this team together, not to agree with each other, but to be able to sit down, have a vote, shake hands and put arms around each other and walk out because we voted for what we thought was best.”