City water rates to increase

Photo by Howard Reed

Photo by Howard Reed

City of Covington utility customers will see an increase in water rates next fiscal year, but the council is taking steps to try and keep a utility increase at bay.

The water rate increase will be the second in as many years, and is again due to the county's decision to go up on the wholesale water rate, according to city officials.

"And if we don't go up?" Councilman Keith Dalton asked.

City Manager Steve Horton responded that the city's budget would take a nearly $250,000 hit. Despite that, the council was split 3 to 3 on the rate increase, with Dalton, Chris Smith and Hawnethia Williams opposed and Mike Whatley, Janet Goodman and Ocie Franklin in favor.

Mayor Kim Carter broke the tie in favor of the increase.

"Again, it's not something we want to do, but I just don't see how we can absorb a $250,000 hit in our budget," she said.

Monday night's vote was approval of the first reading of the rate increase. A final vote will take place at the council's May 17 meeting.

If approved, the current rate of $15.18 for the first 3,000 gallons of water used will increase to $16. Usage of 3,001 to 50,000 gallons will increase in cost from $4.84 per 1,000 gallons to $5.15. Usage of over 50,000 gallons will increase from $5.04 per 1,000 gallons to $5.35.

The average residential customer uses about 6,000 gallons per billing cycle, and will see an increase of about $1.75 on their bills, according to city officials. The rates will go into effect July 1.

In other news, the council has agreed to use a refund of $741,372 from the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia so that an increase in power costs to the city will not be passed along to customers. The refund is the result of estimated power costs from MEAG exceeding actual costs.

Typically, such a refund is put into a bank account for capital improvements but Horton recommended the money be applied to help keep rates from increasing. The city took similar action in December when it received a $2.3 million refund, putting the total applied to the effort to keep utility costs down at $3 million. Carter called it a "bold" move and urged the council to share this information when they hear constituent complaints about utility rates.