The increase is expected to cause a $.60 per month and $7.20 per year jump on the average water bill residents and businesses pay in Cobb County.
Glenn Page, general manager of the authority, said the increase will be for wholesale customers like the Cobb County Water Department and the Marietta Board of Lights and Water. It will be up to individual local governments to decide if that cost will be passed along to the end users, which include residents and businesses.
The increase is part of a $278 million capital improvements plan lasting through 2018 that will fund six pipe projects and three plant improvements, among other upgrades. That improvements plan is $10 million more than the $263 million approved last year, though last year’s plan had a higher rate increase at 6 percent annually.
Smyrna Mayor Max Bacon, who chairs the authority’s board, said he thought the plan was admirable for dropping the rate increase by 2 percentage points, from 6 percent to 4 percent.
Cobb Chairman Tim Lee, also on the authority’s board, agreed.
“This is a good conservative, responsible, visioning plan that’s being brought forward today on behalf of Cobb County so that our costs will be as low as they can,” Lee said.
He was also careful to say that approving the annual increase does not necessarily mean that Cobb residents will be paying higher rates next year. He said that decision is up to the Board of Commissioners, which he chairs. Residential rate increases are typically discussed in January.
Steve McCullers, director of the water department, told the MDJ last week he plans to ask commissioners to raise rates paid by residents and businesses in January.
Water rates have increased for customers in unincorporated Cobb by 59 percent or $23 per month since 1998. But wholesale rate increases haven’t been the only problem the county water department has faced since then.
During that same time frame, the Board of Commissioners has been transferring money customers pay to the water department into its general fund, which gets used to pay for most county services.
Commissioners will take $17.2 million from the water department to pad its general fund under an $817 million budget adopted last week that takes effect Oct. 1.
The transfer is about $47,000 more than last year and the amount has trended upward since the budgeting practice began in 1998 as an effort to keep property taxes low and avoid cutting services.
Critics of the budget transfers have said it can cause water rates to jump because the utility is left trying to make up for the losses.