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Posted: April 24, 2011 8:00 a.m.

Water, landfill fees to rise in Newton

Expect higher water rates and landfill tipping fees in fiscal year 2012 as Newton County seeks to balance its water and solid waste funds.

County officials are proposing raising the wholesale water rate by 21.5 cents to $1.995 per 1,000 gallons. Consultants had predicted the county would sell 13 million gallons of water a day last year, but sales did not reach that level, Administrative Officer John Middleton said last week.

Water production is expensive because of the cost of chemicals and equipment and water line maintenance and repair. Those costs are largely fixed and only increase slightly as production increases, which means water production is most efficient at high volumes. When usage is down, price goes up.

The county sells water from its two reservoirs, Lake Varner and City Pond to the water authority, individual cities like Covington and other counties. The county's cities and the Newton County Water and Sewerage Authority will likely pass on at least some of those increased costs on to their customers. The fiscal year begins July 1.

Landfill tipping fees
The county is seeking a way to cover the cost of operating its 10 recycling centers by increasing landfill tipping fees by $1 to $36 per ton.

The landfill itself is self sufficient and is expected to make a profit of $607,668 in fiscal year 2012.

However, the recycling centers are expected to lose $820,912 next year, which means the solid waste operation will lose $213,244 overall. That deficit must be covered by the general fund, which is supported mainly by property and sales taxes.

The scrap metal and materials collected by the county at the recycling centers generates about $235,000 in revenue, while the centers cost more than $1 million to operate.

The county has only added only one recycling site in the past decade while gaining nearly 40,000 residents. In particular, centers on McGiboney and Oak Hill roads and Ga. Highway 212 are overwhelmed. Middleton said the key to a new center is to make sure it's convenient for residents, but doesn't attract out-of-county residents who could use it for free.

The county could also consider charging customers for trash bags or charging a flat fee and offering curb side pickup.

Even with the increase, the county's tipping fee would still be in line with surrounding counties, Middleton said. The increase would only be passed on to residential and commercial users, not to the various cities, which are the largest users of the landfill.

Covington has previously asked the county to not raise landfill rates for it.

Health insurance costs
The county switched health care providers last year to save money, choosing CIGNA over Blue Cross Blue Shield. Middleton said the county got its money worth and noted the switch to a self-insured plan saved the county money.

Commissioner Tim Fleming said he was glad the county moved away from the "Cadillac plan" it previously offered.

However, Middleton said there could be a significant increase in health insurance costs next year. The county will have a future work session on the issue.

Fuel costs
Diesel costs in March were around $3.32 per gallon, while gasoline was at $3.12 per gallon, Middleton said.

He said current departmental requests for fuel costs have likely been understated by about $80,000. The county will have to find a way to fit rising gas costs in a reduced budget.

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