Conservation reduces county use by 30%
By D.L. BENNETT www.ajc.com
Fulton County officials praised county water users Wednesday for their success at conservation — then socked them with a 15 percent rate increase for their effort.
The conservation penalty the County Commission adopted Wednesday 6-0 matches the increase Atlanta utility officials asked to impose earlier this year but which the City Council so far has resisted. The average water/sewer bill should increase nearly $9 per month to a total of about $68 per month, water officials said.
The county provides water and sewer service to some areas of north Fulton County. It provides sewer service only in Sandy Springs and south Fulton. The county also has some north Fulton customers who only get water.All will get the 15 percent hike.
Utility managers said water use has dropped by as much as 30 percent since last year when Gov. Sonny Perdue asked each county to cut usage by at least 10 percent because of the lingering drought. That has Fulton facing potential default on its bonds, said Angela Parker, public works director."We just can't swallow this reduction in revenues," Parker said.
She said Fulton one day might roll back the rates if the drought ends and revenues return to pre-drought levels.
Commissioners said they felt Fulton had to raise rates despite the slumping economy.
"I'm deeply concerned about raising water rates, but we have no choice," Commissioner Emma Darnell said. "This is a minor range of situations where a rate increase can be justified."
Economy Jackson of Atlanta protested the action on behalf of Habitat for Humanity, which builds low-cost homes all over Fulton.
"Because people are saving money, they are being charged," she said. "We are doing what you asked us to do. We are opposed to this rate increase."Atlanta's proposed conservation penalty continues to be stalled in the City Council's utilities committee and does not appear to be headed toward passage.
Atlanta water utility officials began pushing on Tuesday a four-year rate hike plan that includes the money the conservation penalty would have collected. It would bump up the average water/sewer bill 80 percent — from $84.60 a month to $151.92 — during the next four years.
Council members are expected to consider the rate increases in the next seven weeks as they consider the 2008-09 budget, which starts July 1 and has a projected $140 million shortfall.