Approximately 30 to 50 residents attended a public hearing Wednesday on proposed increases for water and sewer rates, the first significant rate increase in more than a decade.
The Rockdale County Water and Sewer Authority voted earlier to recommend a base rate increase, that would raise the cost about $8.78 per month in most single family households, or $17.56 per month if the household receives both water and sewer services.
Rockdale Water Resource Director Dwight Wicks painted a bleak picture of the agency’s financial outlook.
The RWR carried $110 million in debt but had less than $1 million in unrestricted cash reserves. The rate increase would help raise $2.5 million in revenue through the end of the year and keep the agency from drawing from funds designated for other uses. The increase in base rate and not usage rate would allow families to budget for the increase, said Wicks.
Authority Chair Elaine Nash explained that many changes and treatment requirements have taken place since 1998, such as additional chemical treatments.
Wicks said, "If you want water when you turn on the tap, you have to keep the system sound."
Citizens attending expressed anger over the situation and concern over the system’s inefficiencies. The authority estimated about 34 percent of its water was lost due to leaks and poor infrastructure. That figure was challenged by a resident, who quoted a figure closer to 17 percent but could not recall the source of the figure off hand.
Some suggestions from the audience included moving to a less frequent billing cycle or pursing delinquent payers. Wicks replied that the department was already on its second collection agency but had only collected $5,000, and that some of that debt was simply be uncollectable and needed to be written off, but that the agency was in the process of distinguishing what could be collected.
"It would help me a lot to know we’re working to have an efficient system," said one resident at the podium.
Wicks acknowledged the proposed rate increase was a short term plan, but he liked it to "putting a tourniquet on your arm. We’re hemorrhaging."
As for how the system got to this point, "The people who ran the system did not want to have this meeting," said Garvin Haynes. "That’s the first time in 10 years someone’s honestly come to you and said we needed a rate increase."
The authority’s next meeting is a work session at 6:30 p.m. on May 27 at the Rockdale Water Resources central maintenance facility on Tatum Road.