One New Year's resolution for the Gainesville Public Utilities isn't likely going to make customers happy.
The city-run department that serves customers in Gainesville and beyond is increasing water and sewer rates in 2012, at the same time it's reducing customer service hours.
Rate hikes are taking effect in January after Gainesville City Council approved an increase of 4 percent for water and 4.25 percent for sewer rates in June.
That means sewer rates will rise to $7.02 per 100 cubic feet of wastewater, except for Oakwood sewer customers, who will pay $8.31 per 100 cubic feet.
For customers inside the city limits, water rates will rise to $2.37 for the first 100 cubic feet of water used. Customers outside the city limits will pay $4.74 for the same amount beginning in January.
Part of that rate increase is to account for increased operating costs thanks to things such as increasing energy costs, said Public Utilities Director Kelly Randall.
The new rates were also calculated to accommodate the need for future construction, expansion and
renovation, he said.
"Every year, the staff develops a financial model to show us what our financial would be out 12 years to fund capital fund projects," he said.
Some of that funding is going to the department's water meter replacement program and its obligation to move pipes for the Friendship Road expansion.
Randall said the department is also looking to build up reserves to avoid a future deficit.
The rates are coming at a time when most customers are not getting a four percent increase in salaries.
But Randall said the alternative is no better.
"The last thing in the world we would need is for the Public Utilities Department to have financial problems," he said.
At the same time the department is increasing rates, the department is ditching extended office hours thanks to the success of alternative method payment programs.
On Jan. 3, the Gainesville Public Utilities Department administration hours at its 757 Queen City Parkway building are going to an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. schedule. The office was previously open from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Finance and Administration Division Manager Tina Wetherford said the extended hours are no longer needed because customers now have more options for paying their utility bills.
At a December City Council Workshop, Wetherford said few customers are coming to pay their bills during extended hours when they are able to pay their bills by phone or online. There is also an overnight drop box for payments outside the administrative building.
Wetherford said reduced hours should save the department on operating costs.