Winder to hike water rates

WINDER -- Officials Tuesday voted 5-1 to raise water and wastewater rates within the city limits of Winder.

The measure includes unit increases of 15 percent and base rate increases of 7 percent for the first year. For a total of five consecutive years, the council will decide whether to impose additional increases.

Mayor Chip Thompson and his fellow officials said that the decision was a difficult one, considering the tough economic times that have hit families and businesses so hard.

Councilman Ridley Parrish said that city "staff, mayor and council have considered all alternatives. We certainly need the revenue." With respect to why the increase is necessary, Parrish said, "with a 100-year-old infrastructure, we're facing problems. Even if we pass this rate increase, we're still lacking (funds)."

Roger Wilhelm, Winder's Water Distribution director, said there is an 18.3 percent leakage in the city's water system and the problem will only get worse without intervention.

A study prepared by Precision Planning revealed that Winder provides water service to more than 13,000 customers across a territory of about 114 square miles. That territory includes about 67 percent of Barrow County. Customers outside the city limits pay a higher rate for water and wastewater treatment. Winder residents pay no property tax. Gas and water fees pay for the city's fire and police protection.

"You pay for services one way or another," said councilman Bob Dixon. He asked to delay the vote until the public could be invited to attend an informational meeting about the reasons for the increase, but Thompson said that further delay would affect the staff's ability to prepare next year's budget.

Councilman David Maynard cast the only vote against the rate increase.

"It boggles my mind to ask the public for more money in these hard times," said Maynard.

The increases will become effective in September.

Winder wins prestigious WaterFirst award

Representatives from WaterFirst, the Department of Community Affairs' cutting edge program designed to encourage communities to protect natural resources and the environment, were on hand Tuesday to name Winder the program's 19th recipient. With more than 700 eligible communities in Georgia, Winder is now part of an elite group.

Becoming certified as a WaterFirst community entitles the city to borrow money from related institutions at a 1 percent lower rate. The city can also apply for Community Development Block Grant funds every year, instead of every other year as those cities without the distinction must do. Winder will also receive bonus points now when applying for certain EPA funding.