Upson County Water customers in Lincoln Park received a shock when they opened their water bills this month, with some residents’ bills doubling in cost for the same amount of water consumption in the past. Chris Biggs, of the Lincoln Park Citizen Coalition, spoke to the County Commissioners about the matter at their meeting on September 8, noting that he understood there was an increase in the rate, however many did not think it would be so extreme.
“A lot of citizens out there were confused about the rate change,” Biggs stated. “I went back and looked and from what I can tell the base rate used to be $17.50 and included the first 2,000 gallons. With the new change last month, it went to $23.07, but you have to pay for every 1,000 gallons that you receive. There are a lot of residents that did not realize the changes were going to be that big.”
Biggs gave the example that some residents may have had a bill earlier this summer where they used 3,000 gallons and their bill was about $40. However, with the changes a bill for the same amount of usage is now $80.
“Water bills increasing like this in a month’s time can create a great hardship for a lot of citizens,” noted Biggs.
He continued adding that he realizes the county purchases some of their water from the city and a rate increase has to be passed along, but wondered if this was the same rate for all county water customers or if it was just affecting those in Lincoln Park, since there is no county well in the area. Commission Chairman Rusty Blackston stated that yes, every county water customer is charged the same base rate and the new rate just went into effect for the August billing cycle.
The commissioners voted in May of this year to increase the rates simply because operations were costing more money than what was being brought in. The county had received three rate increases on the price of water from the City of Thomaston and had not passed any along to the customer in years, for example, the county was purchasing water for $5.90 per 1,000 gallons and only charging customers $5.16 after the first 2,000 gallons were used. At a meeting held in May, Upson County Water Superintendent Dwight Smith told the board that the only way to keep the Upson County Water Department afloat was to make some changes.
“We are losing money every day,” said Smith last May. “So many projects need to be done, but we have no money to do so. We’ve been basically giving the first 2,000 gallons away and we can’t do that anymore. Now we are going to charge every one for every 1,000 gallons used, which is what we should have done from the get go.”
The commissioners agreed and the new rates allow the department to break even on operation costs and have a small reserve for emergency repairs, such as the recurring leaks of the aging system in Lincoln Park.
Biggs also asked the board if there was any chance that at some point in the future Lincoln Park could have a water system of their own, so that the water would come directly from the county and residents wouldn’t have to incur the costs of purchasing the water from the city.
“All we are asking for is a fair shot for the citizens of Lincoln Park to have something so we can say Upson County is looking out for the south side of town,” said Biggs.
Commissioner Steve Hudson stated the county is currently working with an engineer to run tests at the old Lincoln Park well to see if it is feasible for a new well to go in the same place. He continued noting there is roughly $300,000 for a water system down there in the 2011 SPLOST and nearly $1 million in the 2016 SPLOST for water projects, however at least half of that would have to go towards an above ground water tank which is needed for the area.
“I assure you we haven’t forgotten about you,” said Hudson.
Chairman Blackston added the county is also currently working on applying for grants to help with the water projects.
“It takes time, but we are trying to put everything together,” said Blackston.
Ashley Biles can be reached by calling 706-647-5414 or on Twitter @AshleyBiles1