Temple’s entire water-sewer system may soon be under review as the city begins to grapple with the economic problems caused by an aging and underperforming utility.
Water meters that are inaccurate and erroneous bills were among the persistent problems mentioned during a Jan. 25 City Council meeting, at which a proposed round of rate hikes was discussed as a means to address financial shortfalls in the city’s water-sewer enterprise fund.
Those rate increases are built into the 2018 budget that the council passed late last year. City officials say they are needed to pay for the city’s own water bill from Carroll County, and to boost the revenue-to-expense ratio to the level demanded by the city’s creditors.
But during the council meeting, support was voiced for a more comprehensive approach; to look at the underlying causes as to why the water-sewer fund so consistently underperforms.
“I think the people of Temple are ready for us to get this thing under control,” said Ward 5 Councilman Richard Bracknell. “So let’s go at it with galloping horses.”
In a memo distributed earlier this month to council, City Administrator William Osborne noted “there are no alternatives to water rate and sewer rate increases.”
The memo noted that, beginning this month, the Carroll County Water Authority instituted a 20 percent increase in the wholesale rate it charges municipal customers. In Temple’s case, that’s $2.56 per every 1,000 gallons used, up from the old rate of $2.16.
The city does not produce any of its water, but instead buys all of it from the water authority. With the new water rates, plus additional costs charged by the county, the city’s water system must raise $110,000 in additional revenue.
To make its payments on the revenue bond that built the city’s wastewater treatment plant — and to meet the earnings threshold demanded by the bondholders — the water-sewer system must generate an additional $127,472.
When that figure is added to what the system must raise to cover the Water Authority’s charges, the total amount of new revenue needed is $237,472.
During the council meeting, Bracknell expressed support for a comprehensive review of how the water system generates its revenues, and how, despite its revenues, the city consistently fails to reach the 1.05 revenue-to-expense ratio the bondholder requires.
He said that with the current fees, SPLOST revenues and proposed rate increases, the city would soon be putting some $1 million into the water-sewer fund each year.
“I’m trying to wrap my mind around what on earth about this system is causing us to put $1 million into it, and we’re not getting anywhere near this 1.05,” Bracknell said.
Bracknell and Osborne seemed to agree that ancient water meters that no longer accurately record water flow are part of the problem.
“If our water meters are not reading correctly, and so the water’s going through there and (customers are) not being billed correctly, we’ve got to have a plan to deal with that,” Bracknell said.
Ward 2 Councilman Howard Walden added that he knew of one water meter that had “not been read in seven months,” while Ward 1 Councilwoman Terron Bivens said she knew of a case of a woman who was charged an exorbitant amount because of an apparent leak.
Osborne’s memo to the council did not include specific recommendation as to how much the water and sewer rates must be raised. That, he said, can be determined from the results of a rate study done free of charge to the city by the Georgia Rural Community Assistance Program.
But Osborne suggested that the city must create a new category of water customer, one for industrial users, he said. Such users are now listed with the commercial accounts.
Ward 3 Councilman Todd Rothwell said that he was “happy to see that this issue finally has a sense of urgency to it,” and that he favored some of the solutions the city has planned, especially the new industrial rate.