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City votes to raise water, sewer rates
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Forsyth County News

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Also during Tuesday's meeting, Cumming's mayor and city council also approved:

* Billing the county for $837,000, its share of a $2 million emergency project to extend the city's water pipes in Lake Lanier to 1,030 feet above sea level. The water contract between the governments, which expires in 2012, allows the city to bill the county for work on the raw water intake. The county was using about 41 percent of the water at the time the lake was dredged in December, which the bill reflects.

* Plans from the Howell Group for the development phase of the city's Aquatic Center. The decision clears the way to begin the project, which estimates say could be completed within 18 months.

* Beginning right-of-way acquisition to complete the Pilgrim Mill Road project. There are eight parcels of land the city needs to buy. Two property owners have reached deals with the city. The project will turn the road into a two-way thoroughfare extending south from School Street past East Maple Street and west on Pirkle Ferry Road to Mason Street.

* Also: Mayor and council received a preliminary copy of the budget. Officials will review the budget over the next month, with public hearings on the spending plan to follow.

-- Jennifer Sami

Water and sewer rates will be going up next year for city of Cumming customers.

Cumming's mayor and city council approved the rate hike Tuesday, a move they hope will better position the utility department for future growth.

The new prices, which become effective Jan. 1, equate to a 40-cent increase in the base rate, plus an additional 40 cents per every 1,000 gallons used.

Cumming Utilities director Jon Heard said the increase will be about $5 per month for the average household.

"This could generate as much as $1 million of additional revenue for us, and that money will go toward the construction of additional infrastructure projects, such as water and sewer lines, treatment facilities and expansions to existing facilities," Heard said.

"But we don't know what the 40-cent increase will really yield until we see how much water our customers use over the next year."

The department has seen income decline and expenses rise. Officials attribute the situation to a combination of more stringent environmental regulations, a drop in water and sewer connection and use fees, and higher costs for construction, fuel and infrastructure.

Even with Tuesday's decision, Cumming's rates are among the lowest in the 60-member Metropolitan North Georgia Water District, higher only than Adairsville and Buford.

An average local household uses about 7,000 gallons of water per month, according to the water district.

Because of the tiered structure required by the district, households that use less than 6,000 gallons of water receive a lower cost per 1,000 gallons.

The $5 additional cost is based on households that use an average of 7,000 gallons per month. Senior citizens who use an average of 3,000 gallons per month likely will see their bills rise about $2.50 a month.

Customers who live in the city currently pay about $33 per month for water and sewer services. City customers who live in the county pay about $38.

Heard said the average bill in the north Georgia district is about $67 per month.

The city serves about 17,000 water customers, about 85 percent of whom are residential. For the commercial customers, Heard said, the increase will not go unnoticed.

Some businesses, like banks and office complexes, don't use much water. But restaurants use an average of 150,000 gallons per month.The average increase for those customers is about $90 per month.

During the meeting, Gravitt noted the many water projects the city has tackled in the past year, including: an advanced water reclamation facility; increased capacity for the water production facility; a 1 million gallon water storage tank; and the 1020 project, which allows water to be pulled from Lake Lanier as low as 1020 feet above sea level.

By 2009 the city will have spent about $60 million on water projects, all of which were funded from its reserves.

The rate increase could have been higher, and still kept the city's average bills lower than surrounding cities and counties.

Heard said the increase was based on the city earning an extra $1 million.

Gravitt said the rate was the minimum charge being passed onto customers, but possibly not the last.

"We're not saying that that's going to be the end of it because if things continue to escalate like they have in the last 12 months ... it might happen again," he said.