What: Proposed new sewer rates
When: 6 p.m. Nov. 29 and Dec. 13
Where: Board of Commissioners meeting room, second floor, Hall County Government Center, 2875 Browns Bridge Road, Gainesville
Noteworthy: The commission’s first vote is set vote for Nov. 29 and the final vote, Dec. 13.
Hall County has rolled out proposed new sewer rates for South Hall customers.
The government is looking at switching to a system of charging residential customers based on usage rather than the flat charge of $42 per month.
“We’ve had a lot of complaints from low-volume users,” said Kenneth Rearden, director of public works and utilities, in explaining the rationale.
Under the proposed schedule, which will be discussed at Nov. 29 and Dec. 13 public hearings before the Hall County Board of Commissioners, all users would pay a $2 customer service charge and $15 “fixed operating cost,” then a $3.50 per ccf usage charge. One ccf is equal to 100 cubic feet, or 748 gallons.
Rearden explained the fixed charges this way: If a customer had no sewer usage, the county would have a $375,000 cost “that’s always going to be there to operate the plant, pipes and pump stations.”
The county is considering a cap of 10 ccf on its rate schedule, with the belief that most households won’t use more than that amount, he said.
According to county data, the average monthly use November through February is 4.84 ccf, and the average June through September is 10.14 ccf.
The average throughout the year is 7.16 ccf, which would equal about $42 per month under the new system.
The new rate, if approved, becomes effective Jan. 1.
Currently, the county operates the Spout Springs Water Reclamation Facility at 6818 Spout Springs Road, Flowery Branch, with service primarily to three area neighborhoods: Sterling on the Lake, Reunion and Village at Deaton Creek.
The plant also serves Flowery Branch High School and Spout Springs School of Enrichment, both on Spout Springs Road.
Phyllis Mercer, a Deaton Creek resident, calls the county’s proposal “unacceptable and unfair.”
“We have been advocates of a fair and equitable rate for four years,” she said, speaking to the County Commission at a Nov. 5 work session.
She complained that, factoring in the fixed $17 costs, those billed for 3 ccf — such as those in her neighborhood — would pay a higher rate than those using 10 ccf under the proposed billing system.
“This is wrong,” Mercer said. “It is not fair to penalize the low-volume user. ... You’ve also chosen an arbitrary cap that is contrary to the industry norm.
“The explanation that we’ve been provided is we don’t want to penalize people who irrigate. This is not about developing a plan for irrigation. This is about developing a plan that’s fair for the sewage rate.”
The proposed rates are based on usage in South Hall, but the county “would use (them) in North Hall until we have enough customers to do a sewer study for that area,” Rearden said.
The county has submitted plans to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division for the North Oconee Water Reclamation Facility, with a capacity of 1 million gallons per day, off Ga. 365 and Whitehall Road.
And the commission has voted to approve $345,586 on a contract for planning, engineering, design and construction services toward the system, which would cover an area up to Ga. 52 near Lula.
Funding is coming from the county’s special purpose local option sales tax money.
The South Hall plant has a capacity of 1.75 million gallons per day to serve that area, including 1 million gallons from Gainesville. It averaged last year 237,000 gallons of treatment last year.
The county is looking at doing some improvements, basically installing a system to discharge treated sewer into Lollis Creek, which flows into the Mulberry River as part of the Oconee River basin.
The plant is currently permitted to operate a sprayfield, as well as send treated sewer for common-space reuse at Sterling on the Lake and at the athletic complex at Flowery Branch High School, Rearden said.
“Commissioner (Craig) Lutz’s theory is to get those (improvements) done and then we’d sell these sprayfields,” Rearden said. “I would recommend we make sure all the bugs are worked out of (the new system) before we put the property on the market.”
The county has about 200 acres it could sell, property that could become valuable, Rearden figures, if Spout Springs Road is ever widened. Hall County is looking to eventually add two lanes to the two-lane road, but no construction money has been identified.
Lutz, whose district covers the area that would be served by the South Hall plant, declined to comment, citing a New Year’s resolution “not to provide comments to The Times.”
Rearden estimates the improvements will take nine months to complete, once they start, “so I’d say, by the end of next year, we’ll be operating (the new system).”
The county bought the South Hall plant and sewer pipes in 2008 for $14.5 million. Previously, it was owned by Reunion and Sterling on the Lake subdivisions, with Village at Deaton Creek later buying in.
“Right now, we’re using variable rates as a letter of credit,” Rearden said. “What we’re looking to do is possibly get a firm bond on this to put this debt under.
“Our plan is to take the sale of that property and ... all the connection fees to pay off this debt. We’ve got sewer all the way up on Winder Highway and we’ve got (planned) areas on Friendship Road.
“Once this economy turns around, there’ll be commercial users to help pay down this debt, I believe.”