When Floyd County Clerk Erin Elrod was single and lived in the mostly unincorporated community of Riverside, she was paying $75 per month for sewer and water and that didn’t include garbage service.
“I live in Old East Rome now with a family of four and we pay $75 per month for the same thing, except we also have trash pick-up now,” Elrod said Friday as Floyd County Manager Jamie McCord was explaining his frustration over the differences in sewer rates between those living within Rome city limits and those in unincorporated areas of the county.
The Riverside (or Celanese) area across from State Mutual Stadium, the Garden Lakes neighborhood in West Rome and the Sherwood Forest subdivision in North Rome are all examples of “blended” clusters of homes that represent both residential city lots and those that have yet to be annexed into the city. It’s in those areas where next door neighbors can have a wide variance in sewer rates.
It’s that variance that bothers McCord the most.
“How do I explain to a senior citizen on a fixed income why she has a $120 water and sewer bill and only uses four units a month and someone else down the street whose home is in the city and uses a lot more water ends up paying so much less each month,” McCord said. “And now that the city has raised its water and sewer rate by 2.5% for the next 10 years, that senior will be paying more like 5% more now. Where’s the logic in that?”
It’s a long-standing issue between the city and the county that goes back to 1988 when the City of Rome purchased and assumed the debt for a failing sewer system owned by Floyd County.
This was “to prevent a building moratorium from being issued within our community by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division,” Rome City Manager Sammy Rich explained Friday. He added as part of that acquisition, the city entered into a franchise agreement that spelled out the terms for the city’s ability to provide sewer services within the community.
When state law required the city to eliminate the duplication of services, the city developed an agreement for the rate differential for unincorporated residents receiving sewer services from the city, Rich said.
Because Rome residents paid for the treatment plant and sewer lines through taxes over the years and are ultimately responsible for those assets and upgrades in the future, those outside the city are having to pay for those same assets through higher rates.
Rich pointed out that those in Floyd County who are outside city limits are able to enjoy the benefits of county-wide sewer services without being forced to live within the city like in many other communities.
“With no sewer in unincorporated areas, we wouldn’t have had industrial and residential growth out in the unincorporated areas,” Rich said.
Both Rich and McCord agree that the establishment of a county-wide “sewer authority” might help level the playing field when it comes to sewer rates.
“In that scenario, specifically the unincorporated sewer customers would gain the most,” Rich pointed out.
McCord said that in the meantime, he’d still like the city to think about lower sewer rates for those outside the city.
“I’d be willing to pay the city more for water to get some type of balance in sewer,” McCord said. “But I don’t own the sewer system. I don’t control the sewer system. If a county resident is unhappy with their sewer rate, there’s nothing they can do about it. They can’t throw city officials out of office because they can’t vote in a city election.”
McCord said he’s working on his own proposal that he hopes to present in January or February. He said this might include some sort of transport fee where those who live farther from the treatment plant might pay more than those who are closer.
“We’re going to buy water from Rome and pump it to the unincorporated areas where they get a direct benefit,” McCord said of attracting more industry to the county. “They’d get a benefit and we’d get a benefit. We benefit by not having to produce the water and they benefit by selling a whole bunch of water in an area they don’t even serve. So it works both ways. We can both win here. We just gotta find the right combination.”