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Rincon approves service rate hikes
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Rincon residents can expect to pay more for water, sewer, sanitation and fire fees.

City council members approved higher rates for those charges at their meeting Monday night, with the new charges scheduled to go into effect Oct. 1.

City Manager Wesley Corbitt said the council members and city staff have been considering the new rates for “quite some time.” Council member Paul Wendelken said the proposed rates were discussed as far back as the 2013 Georgia Municipal Association conference.

“They have been sent back to staff four times,” he said. “We didn’t want to piecemeal it. We felt it was best to do it and get it out of the way and not have to do it over a long time.”

The first bills to reflect the higher rates will be in customers’ hands Nov. 1. Water and sewer rates are projected to go up by 10 to 12 percent.

“We have not had an increase in three years,” Corbitt said.

In doing cost projections over the next 10 years, the current revenue stream from water and sewer won’t keep up with the capital projects the city has planned. Improvements at the city’s wastewater treatment facility cost more than $600,000, work is beginning on water and sewer improvements along 9th Street and the city also will have to comply with mandates to have more reuse water.

“We need to increase our revenue by $200,000 as we look at a capital project plan,” Corbitt said.

For a residential customer using 7,000 gallons of water per month, the current bill is $49. The average bill for water customers throughout the county on public and private systems is $69.95, according to Corbitt.

“We are more than competitive,” Corbitt said. “Our rates are very much below the rest of the county’s residents.”

Rincon used 93,000 gallons of surface water last month, rather than water pumped from the Floridan aquifer.

“Surface water is very expensive,” Corbitt said. “The county is experiencing the same thing.”

The base rate for water will be $11 per month, up to 3,000 gallons. From 3,001 to 9,000 gallons used, residential customers inside the city limits will be charged $2.50 for each additional 1,000 gallons used. Residential customers outside the city limits will pay a base rate of $16.50, with $3.50 per 1,000 gallons used from 3,001 to 9,000 gallons.

The sanitation increases follow hikes from the city’s trash service provider, according to Corbitt. The city’s cost has gone up 51 cents per month.

“We are losing money every month,” Corbitt said. “We have not gone up on our rates in three years.”

The sanitation fee price hike also is expected to help cover any fuel cost increases that may get passed along to the city. Last year, the city brought in about $1,700 above its administrative costs. Without an increase, the city is projecting an $8,600 loss.

Corbitt said the recommended $15.50 monthly tab for sanitation services is still below that of other surrounding governments’ charge.

The city also is weighing the possibility of bringing its sanitation service in-house.

Residential fire fees are going up from $24 a year to $48 a year.

The city spent more than $61,000 in its fire service a year ago than it took in, having spent $566,000. It has spent, over the last few years, more than $2 million to upgrade its equipment and replace its vehicles, according to Corbitt.

“We were working so hard toward an ISO 4,” Corbitt said, referring to the level that helps set fire insurance rates.

Wendelken said the lower fire insurance rates should offset the hike in fire fees.

“Commercial customers could have potentially substantial decreases in their insurance rates,” he said.

The city also is about to go to seven full-time fire fighters, including adding a day man, Corbitt said.

Commercial customers have paid a range of $60 to $1,200 a year. The new base rate will be $150 a year, and buildings over 4,000 square feet will pay 2 cents per square feet. Whether a building is wood frame or has chemicals on site also will be taken into account.

“It’s a rate that makes those more susceptible to fire pay more,” Corbitt said.

Total fire fee receipts are going to go from about $120,000 to $220,000 annually. Fire fees have not gone up in nearly 10 years, Corbitt added.

Council members also noted how the city prefers to operate off user rates than levy a property tax.

“We’re all proud of the fact we have zero millage rate,” said council member Reese Browher. “We’re one of five out of 450 cities in the state without a property tax.”

Mayor Ken Lee said in his nine years of working with the council, he has been impressed of their stewardship of the city’s finances.

“A lot of time has gone into the right balance between what we need to operate the city and not put an undue burden on our citizens,” he said.