AUSTELL — The Austell City Council unanimously approved a 14-cent increase in water rates effective Jan. 1 during its meeting Monday night at City Hall.
The measure passes along a 6 percent increase from the Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority, the city’s water provider, according to Public Works Director Randy L. Bowens.
Extinguishing a 25-year debt from water and sewer revenue bonds kept the rates from going higher, he said.
“We had a 1987 bond that was $10 million or so for infrastructural improvements,” Bowens said after the meeting. “That bond was part of our rates. We had a rate to pay back that bond. It retired in 2012.”
If the bonds still required the city to pay interest on them, he said, rates would have to go up 20 percent.
“Now it’s going up only 6 percent,” he said.
In a memo to Mayor Joe Jerkins and the City Council, Bowens said, “water rates should be adjusted upward 14 cents per 1,000 gallons.”
The rates follow the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District’s three-tiered structure, City Councilwoman Kirsten Anderson said at the meeting.
“The purpose of this structure is to encourage water conservation,” she said.
The structure’s highest rates are for users of more than 7,000 gallons, which is the average household consumption.
Also at the meeting, the mayor’s report included a Christmas present from Washington — $5.7 million to buy 47 homes damaged in the 2009 storms.
Jerkins said he received a letter from District 13 U.S. Rep. David Scott (D-Atlanta) during the holidays, approving an additional Hazard Mitigation Grant after a previous grant helped buy 31 flood-damaged houses.
“Where the money comes from is money left over from the counties that didn’t use theirs,” Jerkins said. “So we got another 47.”
Homeowners can choose to leave the money on the table if they don’t want to move or supply the required 10 percent match, Jerkins said.
“Some of them may not take it,” he said.
Bowens said the grant application also owes its success to a second post-2009 survey FEMA took last year.
“Some structures we had that were borderline did not qualify because they weren’t in the flood hazard area,” he said after the meeting, “but since the restudy, now they are.”
Bowens said he expects the official FEMA approval, purchases and demolition of the homes to take place in 2013.
The properties cannot be built on again, but Bowens said they will be cultivated.
“We’re trying to do community gardens in areas where we have enough space to give back to the community so it won’t be just open ground,” he said.
During the meeting’s citizens’ report segment, the Rev. Larry Robert announced the opening of a veterans’ information and referral office at Vitas Hospice’s community resource center at 5990 Love St.
The office, the second in Cobb County after Acworth, will hold a grand opening and open house Jan. 15 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and will be open every Tuesday thereafter from 1 to 3 p.m.
“We have designated part of our hospice as a community resource center,” said Robert. “We’ll be serving people not only from Austell but also west of there as well.”
Its clientele will be veterans, military personnel and their families, said Robert, who is its veteran liaison and a credit and claims agent with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“As someone experienced with filing claims for pensions and service-connected disabilities, I’ll be able to provide that type of expertise,” he said.
In addition, clients will benefit from a nationwide network of support from similar organizations.
“We’ll be able to bring that expertise to this VIRO as well,” Robert said.
Representatives from the Veterans Administration and the American Legion are also expected to attend the open house, to which Robert invited the City Council.