In a split vote, the Hall County Board of Commissioners voted Thursday afternoon to maintain the current South Hall sewer fee structure through the end of 2009.
The original proposal would have doubled sewer rates for residents in the Sterling on the Lake, Village at Deaton Creek and Reunion communities by changing the fee structure. The change would have meant going from a flat rate to one based on usage at $9.87 per 100 cubic feet.
Commissioners Tom Oliver, Ashley Bell and Billy Powell voted to approve a motion to keep rates the same through the end of 2009. Steve Gailey and Bobby Banks, who represents South Hall, voted against it.
Bell said he voted to delay the sewer rate change in order to spend time improving the situation.
"This vote, we just prolonged it to do it one day," Bell said. "If this rate’s not down by the time we come back, I’m voting against it."
Banks said he voted against the motion because he wants to decrease the rates, and felt that an increase still could come when the fees are voted upon later.
"I was just convinced I wasn’t going to hold it when I wanted to vote to decrease it," Banks said.
A crowd of residents from Village at Deaton Creek and Sterling on the Lake packed the meeting room at the Georgia Mountains Center. Hundreds of residents from the three communities had contacted Banks prior to Thursday’s vote to express their opposition to the proposed rate increase.
Before the fee structure was presented to the commission, Banks addressed the commission with his appeal to vote against the increase for the sake of the residents in his district.
"The Village at Deaton Creek is a retirement community, and the majority of the residents are on a fixed income. As we all know, the economic crisis has adversely affected retirement accounts nationwide and anyone on a fixed income. Relying on their retirement account, they must be frugal with their savings. Any adjustment to the sewer rates should be a decrease, not an increase," Banks said.
Phyllis Mercer, a representative of the residents of the Village at Deaton Creek, addressed the commission with a laundry list of concerns about the proposed fee schedule to which the crowd responded with a standing ovation.
"Each of you know that Hall County’s proposed rate of $9.87 per CCF is two and three times as high as the other cities and counties in this region,"
Mercer said. "This is sort of to us like saying ‘You 1,500 people can just write us a check to pay $20 million of debt.’ ... So we’re encouraging you to develop a better plan to cover any shortfall in financing."
Flowery Branch Councilman Craig Lutz, who also is a resident of Sterling on the Lake, spoke out against the proposed rate increase.
"We are frustrated at the lack of communication to the citizens and municipalities from this commission," Lutz said.
Oliver proposed the amendment to the fee structure that would continue current rates over the next year.
"I would also like to offer an amendment to the resolution whereby the residents of Sterling on the Lake, Reunion and Village at Deaton Creek would remain on a flat rate of $42 per month until the end of the calendar year 2009. The county will reconsider the rate on these three subdivisions and hold a public hearing in the third and fourth quarter of 2009 before any rate changes are implemented. Please know this is a startup system. This county will continue to ensure these rates are consistent with current market conditions," Oliver said.