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Water department budget up for review

CONYERS - Following a troubled year, Rockdale County officials will emphasize efficiency and capital improvements at a public hearing Thursday to review Rockdale Water Resources' proposed 2008 budget.

The county finance department will present a $21.9 million budget for the water department to the Rockdale County Board of Commissioners at the public hearing scheduled for 6 p.m. at the public meeting room, located at 901 Main St.

Also, the county's stormwater utility budget will be presented during the meeting. Both the water department and stormwater operations are considered enterprise funds and are separate from the county government's general budget, which was approved Dec. 20.

Customer charges for service of water and sewer is projected to bring in $20.8 million, and that has been where the water department has had most of its trouble.

A review of RWR operations presented to the BOC in September showed the system had more than $2.1 million uncollected from past-due accounts, more than $1.6 million of which is past due by more than 120 days.

Chief Financial Officer Mia Wilson told commissioners that delinquent accounts had made up as much as a quarter of the amount billed each month. The industry standard is around 12 to 15 percent, she said.

Water Resources officials indicated that some of those outstanding bills may be more than 10 years old, carried over from when the county purchased the system from the city of Conyers. County commissioners have questioned whether the utility would ever recover some of that money.

The report's findings also showed the utility had failed to bill an unknown number of customers for sewer service in recent years.

On top of those problems, an ongoing system study shows that aging water meters at houses and businesses throughout the county have caused years of the county billing for significantly less water and wastewater than RWR is treating.

A consultant hired to study the water department's rate schedule discovered the amount of "unaccounted for water" at more than 20 percent of the water treated in recent years. In 2006, RWR did not bill for nearly 27 percent of the 4 billion gallons of water treated and pumped to customers, according to the consultant's study.

The county began attempting to address the water department's troubles in November by moving the billing, collecting and meter reading to the county's Department of Finance. Accounting software the water department has used since it was sold by the city of Conyers to Rockdale County in 1997 is expected to be replaced in the coming year.

County officials will also have a list of primary initiatives bundled with the budget presentation, including reducing unbilled treated water, increasing system efficiency and maintaining revenue from existing customers. The presentation is expected to go into some detail on how to meet the initiatives.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.