Council members pointed out that utility rates in the city have not been raised for approximately 10 years, and that factors beyond their control were now forcing their hand.
“I know we don’t want to do an increase, but we have to,” mayor Neal Florence said.
As previously announced, the city recently received a GIFA loan and grant in order to improve the city wastewa-ter treatment facility. What they also received, however, was a demand on the city from GIFA to raise the water rate to its customers, in order to assure that the loan amount would eventually be repaid.
“There were special conditions that were required,” in order to obtain the loan, council member Andy Arnold said.
And the loan to help renovate the wastewater treatment facility was absolutely necessary, the council said. “There comes a time when you have to deal with infrastructure,” Arnold said. “We have to get it done,”
City water rates are being increase by one mil. For the average household usage of 3,000 gallons per month, that equates to an increase of $1 per month.
The sewer rate is also being increased five percent, from 75% to 80%, in conjunction with the water rate. That figure will be included in the 3,000-gallon-per-month average.
Electric rates are also increasing for LaFayette city residents. Current electricity rates are 7.7 cents per kilowatt hour in summer months and 7.8 cents per kilowatt hour in cooler months. The council approved a one-tenth of a cent increase, making the new rates 7.8 cents per kilowatt hour in summer and 7.9 cents per kilowatt hour in winter.
That one-tenth of a cent increase, the council explained, will be valid “across the board” for all who use LaFay-ette city power: residents, businesses and industries.
In terms of power usage, one kilowatt hour is enough power to run a medium-sized window air conditioning unit for one hour, or for comparison, a single compact florescent light bulb for 40 hours. Both of those usages will now cost one cent more.
While the water rate increase was a direct result of pressure from GIFA, the electricity increase was more of a cost-effectiveness measure, the council explained.
“We buy our power through essentially Georgia Power,” said Florence. As the city’s costs to purchase electricity are increasing, that increase had to be transferred to the average consumer as well in order to maintain financial balance.
The decision was not a popular one. Many audience members in the council meeting Monday evening ques-tioned that the council has done everything it can to cut costs in other areas before turning the burden over to the taxpayers. Common points of attack were the LaFayette-Barwick Airport, the golf course and the recreation center, none of which make a profit for the city. Concerned citizens suggested that those be closed down, and that city em-ployees should bear the brunt of financial burdens, not LaFayette citizens.
“We have tried to cut everything we can,” said Florence. Many city employees were let go, city salaries have been frozen and steps are being taken to be as conservative as possible in standard upkeep and repair costs for the city, he said.
Florence explained that the airport and golf course are there not only to make the city better and more attrac-tive to potential industries, but out of a sense of community responsibility. They are “just like the recreation de-partment or garbage department,” he said. “We do not make money on those departments, but it is part of city re-sponsibility to have those.”
Council member Eric Tallent pointed out that while not everyone in LaFayette uses every piece of city property, others certainly do. “There’s people in this city, other taxpayers who would sit next to you and want that golf course and want that airport.”
Nonetheless, there were worries in the audience that with no raise for social security this year, and with the cost of groceries, health insurance and other necessities increasing steadily, a dangerous precedent is being set in which costs levied on taxpayers will continue to grow, even if only in small amounts, and that it will eventually be too much.
The new utility rates will be reflected in LaFayette residents’ charges beginning with the November billing cy-cle.