Hinesville residents and others who get water and sewer service from the city are going to see higher bills starting next month.
The city council on Thursday voted unanimously to increase the bills by just over 5 percent for households and businesses that use 9,000 gallons of water a month. According to figures provided by City Manager Billy Edwards, that works out to $2.22 added to the average $42.60 monthly bill. Customers outside the city would see the average $63.90 bill jump $3.32 per month.
“Each year, during the budget process, we review all the fees … to make sure all the rates we charge cover our actual costs,” Edwards said as he introduced the recommended rate increase, along with higher fees for meter installation and sewage fees the city charges Walthourville.
The manager said the council had asked for recommendations to increase revenue when earlier work on budget projections estimated a $400,000 shortfall in the water and sewer fund. That fund is separate from other parts of the city’s finances.
Edwards presented two options for approval. One would have imposed a 6.5 percent increase on water and sewer use, from the base rate that covers use of 3,000 gallons of water a month up through four levels of rates based on the amount used. Another option, which was approved, imposes different percentages based on the level of use; 4 percent for the base and up to 12 percent on the $2.58 per thousand gallons used over 20,000 gallons.
Discussion of the increase came from Councilman Jason Floyd asking how much gasoline and electricity costs had gone up over the past year. Kim Ryon, the city’s financial officer, said fuel costs had gone up more than 60 percent in the year.
Councilman Kenneth Shaw asked how the increase would affect senior citizens.
“The senior citizen rate would not be affected,” Edwards said. “But of course you know that is a very narrowly defined group of senior citizens based on very low, fixed income.”
The meter installation fee also is charged on a tiered system, depending on the size of the pipes involved and, generally, paid by developers and builders. The council action increased three of the seven levels, ranging from a $25 jump for the smallest lines to $855 for 2-inch lines.
The sewage fee charged to Walthourville was increased 10 percent, from $1.50 per thousand gallons of sewage that city pumps into Hinesville’s treatment plant to $1.65.
When the council turned attention to adoption of its budgets, Councilman Keith Jenkins questioned a $20,000 line item labeled Chinese sister city consultant.
In recent years, Hinesville, Brunswick and Savannah periodically have hosted Chinese delegations and sent representatives to the Asian country. Officials say it is to develop trade agreements and attract investments.
“I didn’t anticipate voting on that particular $20,000,” Jenkins said, adding that he thought it had been “zeroed out” in early budget paperwork.
Mayor Jim Thomas said the city is obligated to keep the sister city operation going because of an agreement with the other coastal cities.
“I think we’d be in trouble if we tried to break a contract the city has already signed,” the mayor said.
Other council members pointed out that Jenkins voted for the agreement when it came before the council. The mayor, who said the agreement expires next year, also said he thought it would be improper to vote for just one line item instead of the whole budget.
Despite that, Jenkins moved that a vote be taken on just that line item. His motion died for a lack of a second.
And when the budgets, including the $18.8 million general fund that has the sister city money, were approved unanimously, Jenkins said he voted for them to avoid holding up the budget process.
That general fund total is down about $800,000 from what was approved in the 2011 budget, and Councilman Charles Frasier questioned whether citizens would see any difference in service.
“We specifically gave instruction (to department heads when cuts were ordered) that the reductions would not interfere or constrain services provided our citizens,” Thomas said.