PTC sewer bills set to skyrocket
Starting Dec. 1, city sewer bills to increase up to 123 percent a month; WASA employees to get raises
Peachtree City residents will be getting some sticker shock on their sewer bills starting Dec. 1.
Most residential customers will see their bills go up $20 a month or more, thanks to an increase passed Monday night by the Peachtree City Water and Sewer Authority. The appointed authority also is replacing a minimum monthly sewer fee with what they term a base fee that will apply to all sewer customers.
For example, if you have been using 10,000 gallons of water per month at your home, your sewer portion of your combined water-sewer bill has been $48.30, based on the current sewer rate of $4.83 per thousand gallons.
After the rate increase, that same 10,000 gallons of usage will cost you $72.50, an increase of 50 percent.
This comes on the heels of a 1.25 mill property tax increase on Peachtree City homeowners voted on by the City Council earlier this year. The council has almost no control over WASA, except to appoint authority members.
Sewer officials said the increase was necessary due to the reduction in revenue over the past several years thanks to reduced water usage and a sharp decrease in tap-in and other fees from new developments.
Sewer officials also noted that capital improvements have been delayed for three years as WASA weathered the revenue shortfalls, which were covered out of the authority’s reserves. Those reserves have dwindled to about $1 million, and WASA General Manager Stephen Hogan said he didn’t want to spend further from the reserves.
The new rate increase includes a minimum $26 “base” bill on top of a $4.65 charge for each 1,000 gallons of water used, down from the $4.83 per 1,000 gallons currently charged.
Non-residential customers will also face a rate increase Dec. 1, paying the new $26 base fee and with a per 1,000 gallons increase from $5.35 to $6.15.
The $26 base fee, Hogan said, will raise enough money each year to cover the authority’s annual $3.24 million debt service payment.
That expansion doubled the capacity at the Rockaway treatment plant to 4 million gallons a day and added a new administration building to replace temporary offices.
Here’s how the rate increase breaks down based on the majority of usage by single-family homes that use:
• 1,000 gallons will pay $10.65 more a month, a 53 percent increase;
• 2,000 gallons will pay $15.30 more a month, a 76 percent increase;
• 3,000 gallons will pay $19.95 more a month, a 100 percent increase;
• 4,000 gallons will pay $24.60 more a month, a 123 percent increase;
• 5,000 gallons will pay $25.10 more a month, a 103 percent increase;
• 6,000 gallons will pay $24.92 more a month, an 86 percent increase ; and
• 7,000 gallons will pay $24.74 more a month, a 73 percent increase.
The increases also take affect on residential customers who use more. The authority serves 9,966 residential customers.
The rate increase was approved on a 4-1 vote with authority member Phil Mahler voting against. Voting in favor were authority members Mike Harman, Jeffrey Prellberg, Tim Meredith and Chairman Wade Williams.
With the slowing economy, WASA has seen its sewer tap-in and other fees slow to a trickle, Hogan noted. Also, after the recent drought, citizens have used less water which in turn has resulted in a significant drop in fee revenue, as sewer bills are calculated based on the amount of water used by a given residence or business.
Prior to the drought in October 2007 the city averaged 110 million gallons a month water usage, but that figure has slipped to 85 million gallons a month this year, Hogan said.
WASA in October of last year enacted the second of two consecutive rate increases that added $3 a month to the average home’s sewer bill.
WASA Chairman Wade Williams, echoing the sentiments of other authority members, said no one wanted to enact the increase, but the authority also wants to avoid letting the system decay by neglecting improvements and repairs, which has occurred the last three years.
“We’ve got a system here that’s 40 years old or more,” Williams said, noting the system has deteriorating pipes . “... No one likes a rate increase in trying economic times.”
Without the rate increase, WASA faced a $3.18 million deficit this year, Hogan said.
Peachtree City Councilman Eric Imker asked the authority to consider phasing in the increase over several years. Hogan noted that the authority has looked at a handful of different ways to enact the rate increase, but this ended up being the best one.
Imker also urged the authority to specifically spell out the reasons for the rate increase so citizens could understand the methodology.
“You’re hitting the average homeowner about $300 a year. That’s a huge impact,” Imker said.
The authority also adopted a $8.46 million budget, up from last year’s $7.81 million budget. Almost all of the increase accounts for new capital improvement projects including a $224,000 program to rehabilitate sewer pipe in the Wynnmeade subdivision, one of the city’s oldest, and also to replace sewer pipe near the Shiloh Mobile Home Park where a pipe failed several months ago.
The budget also included $71,000 in cost of living and merit pay raises for authority employees, although the personnel costs in the budget were down 2 percent from last year due to the authority working with two vacant positions and 26 full-time employees. The cost of living increase in the budget is 2 percent per employee, who can also earn up to 3 percent of their salary in additional merit increases.
Imker, who said the rate increase was “huge” and “astounding,” had urged WASA to forego both the COLA and merit pay raises.
Imker also predicted that Peachtree City residents would be outraged by the rate increases and the salary increases.
WASA Chairman Williams, noting that social security was going without a cost of living increase this year and some city residents have either taken pay cuts or lost jobs, said Imker had a good point. But several motions to eliminate both raises ultimately failed, and the budget was approved with the raises intact.
WASA member Mike Harman told Imker that there have been several large sewer projects the City Council had rejected which would have prevented the authority from being in this position. After the meeting, Harman specifically referred to a request from the city of Senoia to use some of WASA’s extra sewer capacity, 500,000 gallons a day, for which WASA would have been paid a $3 million one-time fee and an additional $50,000 a month.
The Peachtree City Council turned that overture down based on concerns it was enabling further growth in Senoia. The end result, Harman said, was that Senoia went for its own water treatment plant and got a permit to treat up to 2 million gallons a day, some four times the capacity Senoia initially wanted from WASA.
While WASA is a separate entity whose members are appointed by the City Council, it maintains full autonomy over nearly all sewer system decisions except for projects that would provide sewer access outside the city limits. Those such projects are required to gain approval from the Peachtree City Council before going forward.
Harman after the meeting also noted there was a chance that WASA could have provided sewer for the new Fischer Crossing shopping center just outside the city limits in Coweta County off Ga. Highway 34. But that too was turned down, Harman said.
Those kinds of opportunities for significant revenue “will never come along again,” Harman noted.
During the meeting, WASA GM Hogan noted that the authority had made some improvements to its sewer system in anticipation of more than 1,000 homes that were annexed into the city several years ago. But the Georgia Court of Appeals has overturned that annexation, and if the annexation is not reinstated by the Georgia Supreme Court, WASA may never be able to recoup those funds.
The authority also took a big financial hit from its reserves last year as the company which served as the surety for its bonds was downgraded to a CCC “junk” status, which forced the authority to pony up more than $1 million of its reserve funds into an account that can’t be touched, Hogan said.
WASA members are appointed by the Peachtree City Council to four year terms. Of the five members, Prellberg’s term expires the soonest, at the end of this year. Among the others, Williams’ term ends in 2011, Meredith’s in 2012, Harman’s in 2013 and Mahler’s in 2014. Each member’s term expires as of Dec. 31 on that year, according to city records.
In addition to the city’s two sewer treatment plants, WASA also owns, operates and maintains the city’s miles upon miles of sewer pipes, mains and pump stations in addition to other infrastructure. WASA also pumps specially-treated water for reuse at the Planterra Ridge golf course and at the city’s Baseball and Soccer Complex on Ga. Highway 74 South.