Warner Robins City Council raises water, sewer rates

mstucka@macon.comJune 16, 2014 

WARNER ROBINS -- City residents won’t face a property tax increase in order to give city employees a raise, but they will be paying more for water and sewer.

Mayor Randy Toms’ first budget easily passed Monday night after receiving almost no discussion from City Council members in recent weeks. The only change to the $37.2 million draft budget was the addition of $5,000 for historic preservation. Each employee would get a 3-percent raise through adjustments to the pay scale. The budget is balanced by taking about $520,000 from financial reserves and taking an additional $600,000 from the natural gas fund.

Residents, however, will be paying more for water and sewer. According to an earlier discussion, the increases of about 10 percent will add $3.37 per month to the average residential customer’s bill and $5 per month to the average business customer’s bill.

In a sometimes contentious discussion during a work session, Councilman Keith Lauritsen verified with staff that the rate increase will not benefit the city’s general fund.

The city’s budget does call for the water and sewer system to transfer $1.7 million to the city’s general fund, which is up just $50,000 from $1.65 million. But in comparison, the natural gas transfer will increase from $1.6 million to $2.2 million.

The city’s water and sewer rates are and will be within the bottom third of those in the state, said Bill Harte, the city’s chief financial officer. The increases will help the water and sewer fund keep its financial stability to keep loan rates reasonable.

But Councilman Chuck Shaheen said the water and sewer rates shouldn’t be increased until after the city conducts a study showing whether an increase is necessary.

“I can justify voting for it if we’ve done a study,” Shaheen said. “Not to balance the budget.”

Councilman Tim Thomas took issue with that, saying Shaheen could have done a rate study when he was mayor.

In the end, Shaheen voted against the rate increase but not the budget.

Separately, the City Council approved development standards for commercial and industrial properties in an older section of the city, particularly along stretches of Watson Boulevard, Davis Drive and Green Street. City officials hope the standards will, over decades, improve the appearance of the commercial corridors. Existing businesses will be grandfathered in until they do extensive renovations.

To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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