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Posted: May 24, 2009 12:30 a.m.

Increased rates coming for utilities

Covington city council raises prices on trash, gas and water

Covington residents will pay higher natural gas rates, water rates and garbage collection fees beginning July 1. The city council approved the second and final reading for all three increases Monday.

Utilities Director Bill Meecham said the city is raising its natural gas rate because the rate has remain unchanged since 2004 and the city has not been making much money off the gas system for the past few years due to inflation and the rising cost of materials and labor, including much higher steel prices. City Manager Steve Horton said the city depends on gas and electricity revenues to fund important parts of the budget.

The monthly base cost for residential customers would increase to $11.95 from $9.50, the base cost for small commercial businesses would increase to $13.50 from $11.00 and the base cost for medium and larger commercial businesses would also increase.

The consumption rate is also increasing to $7.05 per MCF from $6.55 per MCF. An MCF is a measure of volume and is equal to 1,000 cubic feet of gas. In total dollars, based on average gas use during April, a resident’s bill would increase to $59.75, up from $55.28. Even with the increase, Covington will still have among the most competitive rates in the state, Meecham said. The lowest price offered on the Atlanta Gas Light system was $59.39, offered by Walton Electric Membership Corporation.

Horton said on average Covington residents would pay $64.51 more than last year.

The city is raising its water and solid waste rates because the county is raising the rates it charges the city. The county is raising its wholesale rate to its customers by 8 cents per every 1,000 gallons to $1.59. In response, the city is raising its consumptions rates by 8 cents per 1,000 gallons and its base rate, which is the amount charged to everyone for the first 3,000 gallons, to $13.80 from $13.55. For usage between 3,001 gallons and 50,000 gallons, the city would charge $4.40 per 1,000 gallons up from $4.32 and for usage more than 50,000 gallons the rate would increase to $4.58 per 1,000 gallons up from $4.50.

Karl Kelley said the county is increasing its rate because the Newton County Water Fund has to be balanced and costs have gone up over the past couple of years while sales have gone down. He said that pattern is projected for fiscal year 2010. He said the cost of chemicals, electricity and fuel have all significantly increased in the past two years. The county is projecting to sell 4.523 billion gallons this year. Bouchillon said the city buys about one billion gallons a year from the county.

The city is also increasing its garbage collection fees in response to increased tipping fees at the county landfill. The county is increasing its tipping fees to $35 per ton from $33 per ton, so the city will now charge its customers $1 more per month, increasing the collection rate to $22. The senior citizen rate will increase to $15 from $14.70.

County Administrative Officer John Middleton said the county is increasing tipping fees at the landfill because the county lost $325,000 on the landfill last year. The increase will help make up some of that deficit while keeping the county’s rates competitive in the area.

Council Members Hawethia Williams and John Howard opposed the water and solid waste increases.

In other news from Monday night’s city council meeting:

• The city’s golf cart ordinance will likely be changing to allow residents to drive golf carts around the square and into neighborhoods north of U.S. Highway 278.

The city council approved the first reading of an ordinance change that would allow golf carts with permits to drive on city streets and state routes where the speed limit is 35 mph or less.

The following streets will be removed from the prohibited driving list: Church Street SE, Monticello Street SW, Emory Street, Clark Street NW and Hazelbrand Road NE, beginning 200 yards north of Highway 278.

Covington Police Chief Stacey Cotton said so far the city has issued 18 permits. Mayor Kim Carter said she hopes the change will get more people out and about on their carts.

• Sam B. Hay Jr. and John Dearing donated a 0.522-acre, triangular parcel between South Dearing Street and the Central of Georgia Railroad, close to the golf course, to the city of Covington. City Manager Steve Horton said the men offered the land to the city to be used as greenspace. The council accepted the land and Carter said the land probably wasn’t developable for any other purpose. The land was valued at $30,000 by the Key Realty Co.

• Acting City Clerk Tonya Grier was officially appointed and sworn in as city clerk Monday. She’s been filling in for former clerk John Grotheer, who retired at the beginning of 2009.

"I’m nervous, but so far so good," Grier said. "I’m trying to get everything down and get comfortable in my new position. I’ve had a lot of great people to help me. I take it as an honor that they considered and appointed me."

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