By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great local journalism.
Sewer fees generate questions
Placeholder Image
Forsyth County News
The county’s revelation that it has been quietly attempting to collect millions from area businesses that have exceeded their allotted sewer capacity raises more questions than it answers.

County commissioners last week asked that its water and sewer authority present to the commission the result of audits of capacity and payments by businesses, along with a review of steps that have been taken to collect payments for overages.

The commissioners aren’t the only ones who are curious. We are as well.

As explained in stories in the Forsyth County News last week, the county assesses a fee to some commercial properties based on a projected maximum amount of capacity projected to be needed by the business.

This is a one-time expense, akin to the tap-on fee you might pay for a house to be connected to the water and sewer system. It has nothing to do with the actual volume of use for which you are billed each month.

Some two years ago, the county realized it was running out of capacity purchased from Fulton County faster than expected, and realized some commercial firms were using more than their allotment.

Tim Perkins, director of the water and sewer department, said that some businesses may have been exceeding their forecasted limits for years, maybe decades, but that the county didn’t bother to keep track of the data until a couple of years ago.

Now it wants to retroactively collect on the capacity overages.

Maybe that’s the appropriate thing to do, but in dire economic times it is hard to suddenly drop an unexpected utility bill that may top $100,000 on a local business. Of some 80 properties that have been notified of the excessive usage, Perkins said about half have resolved the issue, either by cutting back on use or agreeing to a payment plan with the county.

But there is a lack of consistency in such an effort. If a company has exceeded its capacity for a decade, but can cut back now that business is slow to get back in compliance and avoid additional fees, then it has benefited from the county’s negligence without cost. At the same time, if some companies are forced to pay huge fees for additional capacity and others are not, the county is guilty of being selectively punitive.

These businesses are expected to pay retroactive fees to the county for what is essentially the county’s fault for not monitoring usage to see if there were compliance issues.

As some commercial property owners have pointed out, there is something flawed about the concept in general. When capacity is reserved via a one-time fee, it ignores what happens when the use for that property changes.

There may be no smoking gun here, no obvious foul by any of those involved. But there are certainly a lot of questions dealing with fairness and propriety, as well as government ineptness, that deserve to be explored. Along with the commissioners, we look forward to their answers.