Both Commissioners Bob Ott and JoAnn Birrell have voiced concerns over the county transferring $20 million from the Cobb Water System to the county’s general fund to help balance the budget, and then raising water rates, a practice some consider a back door tax increase.
Lee told fellow board members on the Water Authority on Monday that while the county’s fiscal year 2013 budget accounts for the projected rate increase, “it was not a happy moment” to have to include it in the budget since it was the only line item that is projected to increase.
Marietta City Councilman Grif Chalfant, who also serves on the board, said county customers aren’t the only ones unhappy with the rate increases.
“Our guys are kicking and screaming too,” Chalfant said.
Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon, chairman of the Water Authority, said “We get a lot of heat from folks when we do that annual increase.”
Cobb is the largest customer of the Water Authority, buying about two thirds of the water. Cobb is followed by Paulding County, which buys about 12 percent, then the city of Marietta, which buys about 10 percent and the city of Smyrna, which buys about 5 percent, said Glenn Page, general manager for the Water Authority.
Lee suggested that Page look at refinancing the Water Authority’s debt at a lower interest rate as a way to cut costs. Page will bring the board his findings at next month’s meeting.
In other business, the board voted 7-0 to approve a five year $263 million capital improvement program spanning from 2013 to 2017.
Page said there needs to be new pipes that carry water from the traditional east Cobb area to southwest Cobb and Paulding County. Board member Earl Smith expressed concern over Paulding County pursuing construction of a new reservoir. Smith asked what happens with the new infrastructure the Water Authority intends to build if Paulding determines it no longer needs to buy water from the Authority once its reservoir is built. Page said he didn’t see that as becoming a problem since Paulding is projected to need 72 million gallons per day by 2035 and the proposed Paulding reservoir is only planned to produce 36 million gallons.
“The plan that we put out there only has us planning to produce 36 not 72,” Page said. “If for some reason they’re unable to build that reservoir, they’ll need more from us and that will be the time for us probably to renegotiate our contract.”
Page said the $263 million capital improvement plan breaks down into $49 million for new or upgraded pipelines, $73 million for pipe replacement projects, $108 million for plant improvements, $4 million for a new storage tank, and the remainder for finishing the Hickory Log Creek Reservoir, buying land for a future reservoir in northeastern Cherokee County, equipment and funds to relocate pipeline for unexpected state Department of Transportation projects.
Also Monday, the board reelected Bacon and David Austin chairman and vice chairman respectively for another year and elected board member Charlie Crowder secretary.