Water and Sewer Authority approves rate hike
Board of Commissioners to consider increase today

LAWRENCEVILLE - Water and sewer officials said an increase in rates will allow the system to be self-sufficient and depend less on bond financing in three years.

The Gwinnett Water and Sewerage Authority approved the rate hike, which includes a new $5 base rate each month for sewer service beginning in July and a $0.20 increase to the base rate for water service. Commissioners will consider the change today.

"This is a public utility and we have a responsibility to maintain that system both in the near and long term," authority Chairman Michael Sullivan said. "Times are tough. I don't think anyone is taking this decision lightly."

Authority member Tommy Hunter said a rate hike to make up for the loss in revenue due to conservation of water is "ridiculous."

"I think penalizing the rate payers for doing what was asked is basically dereliction of duty," he said, adding that the water resources department should look for cuts. "I don't think this is the time in the situation we are in economically to do this."

Peter Frank, the department's deputy director, said the department has been frugal, even closing a plant and eliminating 15 positions in the past year. But the rising cost of chemicals and energy to treat water and wastewater makes the new rates necessary. While volumetric water rates were previously set through 2011, officials are also including a gradual increase in rates through 2015, which would increase to $5.02 per 1,000 gallons of water and $8.60 per 1,000 gallons of sewage.

Other rate changes include making conservation rates, which currently apply only in the summer, yearround and increasing system development charges. Those charges, which occur when a new building is constructed and connected to the water or sewer system, used to be a major financing tool for the department. But Frank said the drop in the housing market meant the 2008 revenues from system development charges were only 10 percent of the 2006 revenues.

Frank said the new rate system will allow the county to maintain its $3 billion worth of pipes and plants without using bond financing after 2011.