Vienna council ponders water rates

Published 1:12 pm Wednesday, March 11, 2020

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By Neil B. McGahee

Dispatch Correspondent

The Vienna City Council met for a work session Monday to discuss a long-time water problem in the city. Simply put, Vienna’s water is costing the city more than the revenue it brings in and to compensate. To compensate, the city has been transferring funds from the enterprise fund to the general fund for at least the last eight years. And that, Bill Powell, member services representative of the Georgia Rural Water Association, says is the crux of the problem.

“I understand that going up on water and sewer rates is one of the worst things in the world,” Powell said. “The only thing worse is going up on taxes. If you increase rates you’re looking at a 44 percent increase — 34 percent just to break even. So you have been moving money from your enterprise fund over to the general fund.

“But the state auditors frown on that quite a bit. You can’t move money from an enterprise fund to a general fund which is a tax fund.”

But there are certain circumstances that allow you to do that, he said.

“You receive money — a franchise fee from Georgia Power for the right to put up all these power poles on your right-of-way, which is owned by the general fund,” he said. “Where are your water and sewer lines? They are in the right-of-way too. But the state legislature says a city can’t impose a franchise fee on itself.  So to get around the requirements, we just call it a public right-of-way usage fee.”

By using that method, the city would bring in more revenue and customers would see a rate increase of only about $5.90 a month.

“A utility should be run like a business,” Powell said. “When your outgo is more than your income, then the upkeep will be your downfall. You can’t spend more than you take in. And what’s happening on your tax fund is the same way — you’re spending more without taking in enough taxes. Taxes really only cover your police and fire.

“Garbage collection pays for itself, but storm drainage is all paid by taxes. A lot of cities are imposing a charge for storm water. That’s something you might want to look into as well. City water provides you with a food grade item in your own house 24 hours a day and seven days every week and after it is used, the city takes it back, cleans it up and returns it to the waterways of the state of Georgia. That’s the only utility that does that.”

So for the last four years nothing has been done about this problem, Mayor Eddie Daniels asked City Administrator Michael Bowens.

“Correct,” he replied. “Actually it has been more like eight years since rates were changed.”

“Well what do we have to do to fix this?” Daniels asked. “Mr. Powell has explained it to us.

“Well, first I think we need to publish an ad in the newspaper and then hold a public hearing,” City Attorney Verlin Jones said.

A public hearing will be held on April 13 at 5 pm at Vienna City Hall.

In the regular meeting, council:

-Approved a first reading of an ordinance governing the use of personal transportation vehicles on city streets, and

-Approved a proclamation declaring March as Celebration of Women 2020 Month.

The Vienna City Council will meet next on Monday, March 23 at 6pm at City Hall.