By John Schaffner

Neighborhood Planning Unit-B (NPU-B) board member Sally Silver moved to support a proposed city drought surcharge of 15 percent on customers who use more than 3 ccf or 2,250 gallons of water per month. She expressed a fear of having a federal judge put Atlanta’s water/sewer system into receivership and setting high rates to pay for federally mandated improvements.

The surcharge was characterized as a temporary measure that would remain in effect while the city and state remain at Drought Level 4. This would help defray a possible $33 million Department of Watershed Management budget shortfall by the end of this fiscal year June 30 and continued reduced revenues.

Last October, the state mandated that public water providers, including the city’s Department of Watershed Management, reduce their water withdrawals/production by 10 percent. The city’s water clients exceeded that mandate. Because less water was consumed by customers, the city of Atlanta has received less revenue. Thus the city proposed the surcharge to pay for the loss of water/sewer revenue.

Several people said it is strange to be taxed for doing what they were asked to do — cut their water consumption to conserve supplies.

It was pointed out that the Department of Watershed Management gets about 35 percent of its funding through the Municipal Option Sales Tax (MOST) with rates payments accounting for 65 percent of the revenues.

The city is under a consent decree to complete federal court mandated improvements to its water and sewer systems and a reduction of revenues places that program of improvements in jeopardy. If the improvements fall behind schedule, a federal judge can act to ensure completion of the program.

The proposed ordinance was endorsed by NPU-B by a vote of 16-3-1.