Marietta Board of Lights and Water residential customers could pay a little more for water starting in January.
On Monday, the board voted 6-1 to increase water rates by 2%. Michael Wilson was the sole dissenter.
If approved by the City Council on Thursday, the average customer will see their monthly bill go up by about 50 cents, from $28.98 to $29.48 on average, according to Sam Lady, the city’s finance director.
Mayor Steve Tumlin, who also chairs the BLW, said the change is necessary to balance the books because the Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority is poised to raise its rates. Marietta is represented on the water authority by Councilman Grif Chalfant. County Chairman Mike Boyce also serves on the authority’s board.
“They’re our sole source of water supply, which means they maintain and build the reservoirs, all that type stuff,” Tumlin said. “Water is basically an inexpensive commodity, so as prices go up, it’s very sensitive to them, having to pass it on. … Everything we get, we buy from somebody else. From the county, we buy sewer, the water we buy from Cobb/Marietta Water Authority. We’ve very dependent on our suppliers.”
Glenn Page, the water authority’s director, said the increase is part of a plan put into place three years ago, when the board voted to increase rates by 2% every year for three years to pay for infrastructure.
“It’s something the board approved three years ago; however, they do revisit that every year,” he said. “They have not revisited yet. Our board approves the rate increase when they approve the budget.”
That’s scheduled for December, Page said, but he added that staff is going to recommend the board retain the rate.
Page said the authority has been raising rates for over a decade but steadily decreasing the numbers. He said the current 2% increase is about in line with the consumer price index, which measures the cost of consumer products over time.
“We have had a rate increase every year since 2004, and they’ve been as high as 11.5%,” he said. “We’ve been moving down to the levels we are now.”
According to Tumlin, the BLW has not raised water rates for at least five years.
Terry Lee, chair of the Marietta BLW’s Budget and Rates Committee, said the board absorbs rate increases whenever it is able.
“There was consideration in previous years to not pass it on, although we have some pressure as far as our financial standing and our reserves that we can’t absorb every rate increase,” he said.
Dissenter Michael Wilson said he is not convinced the board is doing everything it can to avoid raising rates.
“I didn’t vote for the rate increase because I’m not satisfied with a budget that doesn’t include SPLOST funds for Marietta Power,” Wilson said.
The SPLOST, or Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, is a voter-approved tax that makes up one penny of Cobb’s 6% sales tax and is split between the county and its six cities.
The county’s current SPLOST was approved by voters in 2014, and collections began Jan. 1, 2016. As of the beginning of August, it has brought in just over $514 million and is set to expire Dec. 21, 2021.
If voters in the 2020 election agree, a new SPLOST will go into effect Jan. 1, 2022.
The city is currently narrowing down a list of projects to appear on that ballot.
“I think we need to have those additional funds in our budget which means we might not have to increase our rates,” Wilson said. “We don’t know that.”
The city’s fiscal year 2020 budget includes a transfer of $13.2 million from the Marietta Board of Lights and Water to the city’s general fund.
BLW critics compare the yearly transfer to a shell game, allowing the city to artificially keep property taxes low while making up the difference through higher utility fees.
The BLW also voted Monday to keep electric and wastewater rates the same, and those rates are also set to come before the council Thursday.
Also on Thursday’s agenda, the council will consider:
♦ Whether to rezone 0.36 acres on Fort Street near Fairground Street to allow for a new assisted living home with 12 beds,
♦ An ordinance codifying park closing hours in the city,
♦ A moti♦ on to spend up to $70,000 in 2009 parks bond funds for track and pond pump repairs at Laurel Park,
♦ Consideration of a sign variance for Roswell Street Baptist Church for a 12-foot tall electric sign.