In other business, public outcry at the meeting, which was attended by about 75 residents, prompted a 6-0 vote to deny the application for a QuikTrip gas station at the corner of Whitlock Avenue and Burnt Hickory Road.
Only one council member wanted to discuss the rate changes at the Wednesday meeting.
“We’re all OK with it being on the consent agenda with (City Councilman) Anthony Coleman opposed to an electric rate increase,” said City Councilman Jim King, who represents the Council to the city Board of Lights and Water, after the pre-meeting agenda review.
Coleman said even though the utility has programs to help lower-income consumers, he did not want his constituents to struggle more than necessary.
“I am a strong proponent of supporting our seniors,” he said. “They’re on a fixed income and have of lot of challenges paying the utility bills. It can sometimes be a choice between buying food and medicine or paying the utility bill.”
The board, on which King and Mayor Steve Tumlin both sit, approved rate hikes 7-0 at its 3 p.m. meeting for electricity and water, citing rising costs and lowered revenue.
Electricity will go up about 7 percent, or another $6.40 a month for an average household using 850 kilowatt hours, an increase of 4 cents per kWh.
Water rates will go up 3 percent, or 16 cents a month for consumers of 2,000 gallons, 42 cents at 4,000 gallons and 81 cents at 7,000 gallons.
Sewer rates did not rise because expenses for sanitary sewer treatment did not increase.
King made favorable comparisons between the city utility and its competitors.
“We’re not competing,” he said. “We’re cheaper.”
But Larry Wills of Marietta dismissed that argument during a public comment section of the regular meeting.
“Every time this issue comes up, there’s a discussion on where the city stands with other cities,” he said. “That’s not the concern of the citizens. They are concerned with the entire bill, which includes the franchise fee and state and local taxes. These are things you have to consider in total, not just the increase in electricity or water.”
He said the board needs new leadership to restore the utility’s former reserves of $17 million.
“If that money were still there, it might ameliorate the rate increases customers are facing for the next five to seven years,” Wills said.
King’s board report at the agenda review included an idea that may gain traction in future — automatic rate increases.
“That’s a great idea,” Tumlin said.
Councilman Philip Goldstein disagreed.
“I would prefer our current route of looking at it. It’s uncomfortable to vote on increases,” he said.
With one pro and one con opinion, King said he would ask the board to examine the issue further.
While the QT matter did not require a public hearing, eight residents signed up to speak and another five made unscheduled appearances.
The Tulsa, Okla.-based gas station chain proposed its ninth Marietta location on the 1.2-acre site abutting the Burnt Hickory Village shopping center.
Its application for 10 variances included reducing the amount of land between its 5,720-square-foot convenience store and shopping center boundaries.
Objections to the application by the 13 speakers included traffic, safety, light pollution, trees, right of way, property values, parking, property size, appearance, storm water runoff, a retaining wall, quality of life and public health.
“I don’t oppose QT in general. I do oppose their disregard for our zoning ordinances,” said Rob McPherson, an engineer and site development expert. “They’re trying to cram too big of a project on too little of a site.”
QT representative Richard Calhoun said his client sought variances, not rezoning, for conditions mandated before the area was developed commercially.
“Variances don’t change the use, but there are restrictions that need some relief,” he said. “I don’t know what construction could take place in that corridor without variances.”
Calhoun asked the City Council to postpone rather than deny the application in order to give the applicant more time.
“Maybe we can bring them around to our point of view,” he said about the homeowners’ associations and individuals.
However, City Councilman Andy Morris, in whose Ward 4 the proposed project lies, moved for denial soon after the public speakers concluded.
The council’s 6-0 support of the motion for denial, with Goldstein abstaining, brought applause.