WASA defends sewer rate hikes in PTC
After dramatically raising its sewer rates last month, the Peachtree City Water and Sewer Authority had just four residents attend its meeting Monday evening.
Resident Doreen Helmen asked why the city’s sewer bills would be 63 percent higher than those for residents in the city of Fayetteville.
WASA board member Jeff Prellberg explained that Fayetteville has only one sewer plant and it is used much closer to its allowed capacity compared to Peachtree City’s two plants, which are permitted to treat 6 million gallons a day but average about 3.5 million gallons.
Prellberg said WASA has worked to cut costs, in large part by operating with two unfilled positions.
WASA also defended its 4-1 decision to have cost of living and merit raises for its employees in the 2010-2011 budget at a cost of $71,000. WASA Chairman Wade Williams noted that of the authority’s $8.4 million budget this year, the raises equal .008 percent of that total.
The rate increase, which will result in most residents’ sewer bills at least doubling, will be in effect as of Dec. 1.
Peachtree City Councilman Eric Imker said he wanted to see the authority’s financial data for the past five years and also wanted to know how much each individual WASA employee makes.
WASA board member Mike Harman told Imker he was welcome to review all such documents that are allowed under Georgia’s Open Records Act, but the requests should be made to WASA General Manager Stephen Hogan, not the WASA board itself.
Williams also challenged an assertion that Imker made at a recent council meeting that the authority’s “tap-in” fees to bring sewer service to a new building were too high and therefore a disincentive for new businesses to locate here. Williams noted that the tap-in fees are well in line with what other sewer providers charge, and as such the fees are not turning businesses away.
Imker’s comments were that “the authority was precluding development in Peachtree City,” Williams said. “And that’s not true.”
Imker chided the board for “acting as if you didn’t want the public to know” about the $71,000 in merit and cost of living raises it has budgeted for the coming year.
Imker based his statement on an exchange he had with WASA officials at October’s meeting during which the board was discussing the proposed rate increase. The next item on the agenda was the budget, and WASA officials said they would discuss the employee raises at that time, but ultimately the board relented to Imker and shared the information as part of the rate increase discussion instead of withholding the information until the budget agenda item was called at the meeting.
In other business, WASA General Manager Stephen Hogan reminded the authority that because water usage and therefore sewer fee revenue was down from March through July, the authority spent about $400,000 out of reserves to pay its debt service payments.
Hogan said he plans to replace those payments in the authority’s cash reserves “and then some.”
Hogan noted that the authority had received “a few” phone calls and emails inquiring about the rate increase. Some of those with inquiries had misunderstood the affect of the increase on their bills and WASA officials were able to explain it to them, Hogan said.
Helmen asked the authority to look into a recent sewage backup into her home, as her plumber informed her the problem was on the city’s portion of the sewer line. Hogan said the matter would be investigated.
Helmen noted that she lives on Golf View in one of the older areas of town. WASA officials noted they have a contract to use a special video camera system that inspects sewer pipes, and this year about 75 miles of sewer pipe will be inspected under that program.