Once new rates go into effect, Upson County water customers will see a new line item of four dollars on their bill for maintenance and operation, bringing the base rate charges to $23.07 per month. The Upson County Commissioners unanimously voted to add the charge at a work session meeting held last week, noting the new line item would help to cover the cost of repairing the system and give a small reserve to cover the cost of emergency repairs that happen unexpectedly. The new rates are estimated to begin in August of this year.
Upson County Water Superintendent Dwight Smith told the board they are losing $100,000 per year due to the recurring leaks in the aging system in Lincoln Park, as well as having to replace pumps on the wells the county operates, which do not last as long because they have to run continuously. He added that one well that is being used originally pumped 60,000-72,000 gallons per day and now only pumps 15,000-16,000 gallons a day. Smith also stated the equipment used to run the water system is getting old and has to be replaced just to keep the department in working order. For example, he had to replace two pumps on wells last week, which cost $15,000 each, and there is currently another pump that needs to be replaced as well. In addition, one of the biggest problems he faces is not having any funding to cover emergency repairs that have to be done immediately, such as a water main that busted last week.
“It is recommended that every year you have an extra $50,000 in reserve just in case we have an emergency,” said Smith. “We need money in there for things we cannot prepare for.”
Another aspect contributing to the problem is how the county currently charges its water customers. The wells alone do not supply enough water for the county customers and therefore they also purchase water from the City of Thomaston. However the city does not have a wholesale rate, and charges the county $5.90 per 1,000 gallons like it does all of its city customers, but the county is then only charging its’ customers $5.16 per thousand once you go over 2,000 gallons. Smith added that the county has basically been giving customers 2,000 gallons since they were not charged any more than the current base rate of $17.50. However, once the new rates go into effect the county will charge the base rate only up to 1,000 gallons; then once you go over that amount, you will be charged for each 1,000 gallons.
“We just can’t continue to run a business without enough money to operate,” said Commission Chairman Rusty Blackston, noting there have been several increases from the City of Thomaston in the last few years that the county has not passed on to its customers.
Commissioner Lorenzo Wilder stated for the future the county needs to pass on the increases any time the city raises rates, instead of letting it accumulate and having a large increase at one time. Commissioner Frank Spraggins also noted that even if the county had raised the rates each time the city did, the water department would still not be breaking even due to the loss the county faces with the system in Lincoln Park. Wilder agreed and added that the problem in Lincoln Park is when the water department fixes one leak, and then a week later there is another leak 20 feet down the line, to which Commissioner Steve Hudson added the system was already worn out when the county took it over years ago. The entire board agreed the system in Lincoln Park needs to be completely replaced, however, that is not feasible at this time. Chairman Blackston stated that even if the county were to receive a CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) grant to use for the project, they are only for $500,000 and that amount of money does not go far when it comes to replacing the entire system. He believes it would still take several years to replace the system at that rate.
Therefore, with all of this in mind, the board decided an additional charge was needed to be added to help cover the cost of maintenance and build in a reserve to help in emergencies. By charging an additional $4 per month to each of the county’s 2,300 customers, then the water department should bring in roughly $100,000 more per year.
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1