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Public utility revenues continue downward trend
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As is the case with many governmental departments, revenue for Gainesville’s public utilities department is down and has been declining for several years.

“If you look at the 2007 fiscal year and compare it to 2008, you’ll see that we had a decline of around 8.6 percent,” said Tina Wetherford, finance and administration division manager for the department, during the city’s annual utilities workshop Friday. “And if you compare fiscal year 2008 to fiscal year 2009, you’ll see that we had another 8.6 percent decline.”

Before 2007, there was always an increase, she added.

According to staff reports, the department generated $57.1 million in total revenue in fiscal 2007. During fiscal 2008, that amount dropped to $52.2 million and dropped again to $47.7 million last fiscal year.

Much of last year’s revenue, $21.4 million, was generated by water sales, as has been the trend for several years. An additional $19 million was generated by sewer sales.

Among other things, the decrease in revenue has been linked to a decline in customer growth. From 2006 to 2008, the city saw the total number of active water and sewer customer accounts grow by nearly 8 percent annually. However, from 2008 to 2010 those same accounts decreased by 1.3 percent annually, city officials say.

“We’ve actually lost some active customers. We actually have less active (water) meters today, than we had a year ago. Sanitary sewer (accounts) are even worse,” Public Works Department Director Kelly Randall said. “But we’ve been seeing a few more (water) meters being sold, so we are encouraged that things may at least be leveling off.”

So far this fiscal year, which ends June 30, the city has sold 318 water meters, which is 49 more meters than were sold during fiscal 2009.

While planning for future revenue sources, which could include rate hikes, city officials say they have to be careful about how additional costs are levied on customers — especially the industrial clients.

“General industry is only 0.5 percent of our (water) customer base, but they provide 26.1 percent of the water revenue,” Randall said.

“(To raise more revenue) we would have to raise the rates of everyone, including those customers.”

“The increase would have to be over and above other inflationary costs, and we have to ask how much can these customers bear. We don’t want to do anything that would run any of our corporate citizens off.”