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County hikes water, sewer fees
Residents protest decision to no avail
Water Rate No 2 es
At his first meeting as commissioner, Jim Boff, right, listens as resident Edgar Ortiz speaks out against a water rate increase Thursday night. - photo by Emily Saunders

Forsyth County commissioners made official Thursday a hike in water and sewer rates, the system's first increase in nearly two decades.

The change, which took affect immediately, amounts to about $7 more per month for the average water customer.

The hike angered some residents, who questioned the county's wisdom, as well as the research that went into the decision.

Based on 6,000 gallons, an amount Chief Financial Officer Bill Thomas said was the monthly average per household, residents will now pay $29 each month for water. 

Thomas said if rates were not raised, the county water and sewer department could face a $5 million operating loss. According to county policy, the water and sewer department must generate enough revenue to sustain itself.

A base rate of $10 for sewer use also was approved in the same motion, which passed 4-1 with Commissioner Brian Tam opposed.

Rate increases are considered on a part-time basis, while the county awaits the results of a rate study, Thomas said.

The study could be finished by midyear. Rates could then be revisited and possibly adjusted further.

Resident William Cook was frustrated with the plan.

"We were required to reduce our water usage [in response to the ongoing drought]," Cook said. "To now penalize us by raising prices doesn't seem right."

Chairman Charles Laughinghouse tried to explain the matter.

"What happens when what you're paying out is greater than what you're bringing in?" he asked. "That's what's happening to the water and sewer fund in Forsyth County."

Rates went from $12 for the first 3,000 gallons to $12 for the first 1,000 gallons. For every 1,000 gallons after the first 1,000, residents will pay an additional $3.40.

Under the new rate structure, using 2,000 gallons will cost $15.40, 3,000 gallons $18.80, and so on.

New rates for senior citizens start at $9 for the first 1,000 gallons, with every additional 1,000 gallons adding the same rates to their bills as all other users.

Thomas said it was the county's first water rate increase in 18 years.

He said the rates were based on a random sampling of five water and sewer customers. The study found that those customers on average would have a bill increase of 21 percent.

The county also took a random sampling of five senior customers, whose bills saw a 68 percent increase after the water and sewer hike.

Forsyth County resident and retired statistician Edgar Ortiz worried that by picking just five customers, the county did not provide a good enough representation.

"Picking a random of five customers is not adequate," Ortiz said. "These numbers could be totally nonrepresentative."

Resident Martin Cheney said the rule of supply and demand should apply.

"If the price of water is increasing, it will further reduce the demand for water," he said. "This is not a very likely solution to the problem."

He said the city of Cumming's rising cost of water has also affected them.

Under contract, the county is required to purchase 1.62 billion gallons of water per year from the city at a rate of $2.40 per thousand gallons.

Thomas said this made the county's situation unique to that of other Georgia counties. As for the $10 sewer base rate, Thomas said Forsyth County was one of few systems in the state that did not previously have one.