MT. AIRY - Citing the failure by Habersham County residents to renew the 1-cent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, the Mt. Airy Town Council voted Monday night to increase water rates in the town.
That $3-per-month increase in the base water rate is necessary, town officials say, in order to pay for replacement of the main water transmission line through town.
Councilman Ray McAllister explained what town officials are up against in order to accomplish that project.
"We're looking at a roughly $265,000 expenditure of having to replace a 50-plus-year-old water line that runs down the main street," McAllister said. "It feeds the whole city itself. It's in pretty bad shape, and we're just on borrowed time with it right now. We were hoping for SPLOST money, but since SPLOST didn't pass we don't have a choice but to absorb that cost from within - that's what the $3 a month water rate increase is going to fund."
During the town's budget hearing that preceded the council meeting, Mayor Gary Morris explained the necessity of the project.
"SPLOST or no SPLOST, this is something that we can't do without," Morris said, noting all the town's residents and businesses will share in the cost.
"It's going to benefit all our citizens," Mayor Pro Tem Mike McCoy added.
Morris said the town previously has tried tiered rate hikes, but found those unsuccessful.
"The bulk of the water is being used by the lower-consumption people," Morris said.
Councilwoman Linda Hughes urged the council to proceed with the water line replacement.
"That line might not last another two or three years," she said.
Additionally, on the topic of water, Morris said the town will have to change the way it bills customers for water.
"As you know, they've come out with a program that says our water bills that have been sent out for years on a card that has the account numbers and so forth on it, that that's an invasion of privacy, even though you can come up here and look at it if you want to because it's open records," Morris said.
The required billing changeover is going to be costly for the small town, officials say.
"It's going to end up costing us about 50 cents a customer to convert from the card system to the system with an envelope," Morris said. "It's going to be six months or more before we can start it."