Toccoa Approves Targeted Rate Hikes

Utility bills for city of Toccoa water customers who are not city residents will be going up, as will utility bills for Georgia customers of Toccoa Natural Gas.

Monday, the Toccoa City Commission unanimously approved two rate changes that will take effect with the start of a new fiscal year, which begins on July 1.

One rate change involves a 3-cent-per unit hike on gas bills, while the other rate change is increasing the water rate for a county customer across the board to 1.25 times the rate of a city customer.

Regarding the gas rate increase, Toccoa Mayor David Austin said that the proceeds from that increase are designed to cover the cost of moving utility lines as part of the widening and relocation of Highway 17 in Stephens County.

“That necessitates spending several hundred thousand dollars, so we put in a three-cent rate for that and as soon as that is paid for, and we think it will be paid for in less than a year, that rate will come off,” said Austin.

The gas rate increase is expected to net the city about $300,000 in one year and the DOT project is expected to cost the city about $264,000 after the city receives partial reimbursement from the DOT for the work.

For the average residential gas customer, Toccoa Utilities Director Harry Scott said a bill will increase by about $1.50 to $1.75 per month, depending on how much gas one uses.

Moving to the water side, Austin said by the city changing its water rate to charge a county customer 1.25 times the rate of a city customer, it is returning to what had been done prior to the late 90s and is still in accordance with a previous SPLOST agreement between the city and county.

“Originally in the SPLOST II agreement, we were allowed to raise the outside (the city) water rates because of the service delivery necessitated by water lines being outside of our jurisdiction,” said Austin. “Somewhere along the line, it got changed. Most cities have a two times rate (for) outside the city or 1.5. We decided to go to the original SPLOST agreement which was 1.25.”

Austin said he feels there are further justifications for the change.

“I have always felt that the residents of the city of Toccoa should benefit from being city residents,” said Austin. “This way, they will be paying a little less than the county. Plus, when we have problems in the county, when we have to relocate lines or fix water leaks, it does cost more money the further out you are.”

Austin also noted Toccoa’s differential remains less than other municipalities in the area.

According to city officials, the change will result in an increase of $4.28 per month on an average county residential water customer’s bill, when assuming an average monthly water use of just under 4,300 gallons.

The water increase is expected to net the city about $457,000 in additional revenue yearly.

During a budget work session prior to Monday’s meeting, city officials and commissioners discussed possibilities for using that increased revenue, which created a surplus in the city’s projected Fiscal Year 2014 budget. Toccoa City Manager Mike Jackson listed his priorities for the money as pay increases for employees, vehicle replacements, and investment in Compressed Natural Gas vehicles.