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Posted: Thursday, August 28th 2014 at 12:12pm

Gainesville Council continues to disagree on water prices

By Marc Eggers Staff
EMAIL STORY CONTACT EDITOR PRINT
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Tina Wetherford (L) and Kelly Randall
GAINESVILLE – Sometimes water can cause a fire to flare-up; that is, when water is the topic of a city council discussion.

Such was the case at Thursday morning’s Gainesville City Council work session.

Emotions surfaced as the divided Council disagreed, sometimes vociferously, on how to raise $230,000 - $240,000 for projected future water system capital improvements.

At Council’s last work session, two weeks ago, Public Works Director Kelly Randall and Administration Division Manager Tina Wetherford presented a resolution for an across-the-board rate increase of one-percent for water customers.

That resolution ended in a 3-to-3 stalemate at the ensuing voting session several days later, essentially scrapping the measure and sending Randall and staff back to the drawing board.

At issue is who should shoulder the burden to supply those needed funds.

A rate increase, rate increase opponents argue, places an undo portion of the cost on large users, such as businesses. Such a move could thwart business expansion in both the city and the county, since Gainesville provides most of the water to areas in Hall County outside the city limits.

Councilman Sam Couvillion said at the voting session where the vote was split evenly, "I have spoken with several business owners - spoke with one today - his annual savings would be about $5,000. And $5,000 to him is real money."

Proponents favoring the increased user rate said the alternate plan - spreading out the cost among the nearly 50,000 customers evenly and not increasing the usage rate – could add a financial burden to many families already struggling to pay their monthly bill.

Randall and Wetherford’s new resolution, however, took that tack.

“The only thing we have…recommended as change over what we presented to you last time…is drop the water rate (increase) to zero-percent instead of one-percent,” Kelly explained, “but increase the account servicing fee from 65-cents to 85-cents, which will allow us to bring in additional revenue.”

Randall explained the 20-cent increase over the originally planned 65-cent increase for account servicing would generate about one-half of the needed monies for the capital improvement fund. He did not mention from where he saw the remainder of the needed revenues coming.

“Let me tell you, if $116,000 or $120,000 is that big of a deal out of a $61-million budget, that it’s going to make us start borrowing money, then we’ve got problems,” Mayor Danny Dunagan said.

When asked what the cost would be to water customers under the new resolution, Randall quickly calculated about $10 per year.

Councilman George Wangemann said it was time to make a decision. “We don’t need to be like Congress and continue on with stalemates. We’ve got to resolve this problem; it’s incumbent upon us that we resolve this problem."

That probably will happen as the resolution was placed on the agenda and will be voted on, Tuesday, September 2, at 5:30PM in the Public Safety Complex on Queen City Parkway.



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