Winder OKs measure to lower schools' water bill

WINDER - The City Council passed a measure Tuesday that could save the Barrow County school system about $238,000 per year, said Superintendent Ron Saunders.

The measure is expected to keep property taxes from going higher, said Bob Beck, Winder's city manager.

Winder's water officials negotiate rates with entities designated high-volume water users, rather than charging them a regular rate. A high-volume user is one that uses 100,000 gallons of water or more per day.

Winder's water department services 15 of Barrow County's 17 schools (Auburn and Statham Elementary Schools are on other water systems), with 40 water meters spread out among those schools. Systemwide, the schools use about 132,000 gallons of water per day, said Jake Grant, assistant superintendent of facilities.

"We were not treating them as a high-volume user," Beck said. "With 40 meters, the school system did not have a single meter that qualified for high volume, but collectively they do. All council did was recognize them and agree to negotiate a rate just like we do with private enterprise."

With a water-rate increase about to go into effect, Board of Education members realized they could be looking at paying as much as $288,000 this school year, Saunders said. The reclassification should bring that figure down to about $50,000 this school year, Saunders said.

The total amount that the Barrow County School System paid the Winder Water Department during the 2006-07 school year was unavailable by press time.

"On water rates, historically there has always been same rate for residential and commercial, and we recognized that is an inequitable situation," Beck said. "We added an availability rate, a fixed amount paid every month, based on meter size."

Beck said the measure was a proactive approach to keep the school system's 18.5 millage rate, on which property tax amounts are based, from soaring any higher.

"The school system serves the same customers we serve. We don't want to place a burden on the school system, then they turn around and raise property taxes to support the school system," Beck said.