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Public utilities retreat to focus on water rates
Event will be at Brasstown resort this year
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Gainesville City Council will get a first look at proposed 2013 water and sewer rates from the city of Gainesville Public Utilities Department this weekend.

City Council and Public Utilities Department staff will convene Friday and Saturday at the Brasstown Valley Resort in Young Harris for the annual department workshop to discuss topics including capital improvement projects, the department's financial situation and recommended water rates.

Those rates can be a controversial topic that affects not only city residents, but water customers throughout Hall County.

Water rates have been a particularly hot issue at times since noncity residents pay double the rates of city residents.

Currently, customers inside the city limits pay $2.37 for the first 100 cubic feet of water used, while customers outside the city limits will pay $4.74.

City officials say that a study performed by an independent firm concluded out-of-city rates should be 2.13 times the rate inside the city since most newer water lines have been built outside the city's limits.

The annual workshop has traditionally been held at the Brasstown Valley Resort. However, in recent years, the city had skipped going to the resort in favor of holding it locally.

The cost of this year's workshop at the resort is about $5,000.

City Councilman Bob Hamrick, who has attended every one of the 15 previous workshops, said there are advantages to getting out of town since there are so many details to go over.

"You're in a secluded area where you are focused just on the matter you're considering without distractions," he said.

"It's a pleasant atmosphere to be in obviously," he said of the resort, "but you're confined indoors during daylight hours."

Hamrick explains that the concentration and time commitment is necessary given the size and complexities of the Public Utilities Department.

"Obviously the utilities department is the largest department — both in terms of service and on the financial end of it," he said.

The utilities department is an enterprise fund run similarly to a self-supporting private business. Its budget for the current fiscal year is $56.1 million.

After getting an update on the department's progress, staff will offer its proposal on water rates for 2012.

Public Utilities Director Kelly Randall said water rates are determined through a computer model that accounts for capital projects, projected operating budgets, estimates of potential growth in customer base and sales and other factors. Those numbers are run again by civil engineering firm Jordan, Jones and Goulding for independent verification, Randall said.

City Council will not give final approval to a water rate this weekend, but offer feedback on the proposal.

Final approval typically comes with final budget approval in the summer. Last year, City Council approved increases of 4 percent for water and 4.25 percent for sewer rates.

The process starts this month to give Public Utilities staff time to address feedback and then inform its largest users, like those in the poultry industry, of potential changes.

If changes are approved, they would not take effect until Jan. 1, 2013.


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