Rockdale rate study shows need for water, sewer rate increases

CONYERS -- The Rockdale Water and Sewerage Authority and Rockdale Water Resources are continuing to work on a master plan. The authority met Thursday to discuss the first draft of a five-year rate study.

The study was produced by Raftelis Financial Consultants, a consulting firm that specializes in working with water departments.

"We're trying to get a package that everyone is in agreement with to take to the (Board of Commissioners)," said Melissa Levin of Raftelis.

The rate study is a five-year plan and does not provide funding for the complete 20-year master plan RWR is developing.

"We can't fund the entire master plan with this. What we can do is find a source for funding of the plan," said Dwight Wicks, director of Rockdale Water Resources.

Wicks said capital projects have been funded through bonding and other sources, but that money is expected to be gone by 2012.

"We've got a procurement problem," said Elaine Nash, chairman of the Water and Sewerage Authority. "We've got a huge problem and we've got to tackle that."

Raftelis worked with information provided by RWR to project rates.

According to the data presented by Raftelis, to make water revenues sufficient, there would need to be increases of about 3 percent, 2 percent and 3 percent between 2013 and 2015. Wastewater rates would need to increase about 56 percent, 65 percent, 67 percent and 127 percent between 2012 and 2015.

Right now, water revenues are being used to supplement sewer revenues. About 66 percent of RWR customers do not use the sewer service.

"It's going to be shocking to most of our customers to understand sewer is expensive," Nash said.

She said most counties in the metro Atlanta area have increased sewer rates.

The plan will work to make sewerage self-sufficient so that it no longer has to be subsidized by water. Nash said this will be phased in and may take up to eight years.

"It won't be done in one fell swoop," she said. "We actually will probably end up with lower rates than surrounding counties."

Authority members discussed restructuring the rate plan to create a four-tier system. The system currently has three tiers.

By using the tier system, the effect of any rate increase would be greater on customers with a higher water and wastewater usage. For example, a customer that uses 6,000 gallons of water a year may have a 5 percent increase but a customer that uses 8,000 gallons may increase by 8 percent, according to data provided by Raftelis.

"It's going to effect customers differently, and there's no way around that," Nash said.

The authority will continue working with Raftelis to create a final plan. Raftelis will tweak the plan based on the water authority's concerns and present a plan addressing these concerns.

"We certainly want to let the public know what's going on," Wicks said. "I ask you to bear in mind, from the standpoint of the public: how much can the public afford and how quickly?"