By John Schaffner
Residents of Buckhead brace yourselves. Your water and sewer rates will be going up again, according to District 2 City Councilman Howard Shook.
“The only question is who is going to raise the rates and how high will they go,” he told about 100 residents of north Buckhead at the March 27 annual meeting of the North Buckhead Civic Association.
Shook reminded the audience that about four years ago the city council adopted a four-year series of rate hikes, which fortunately did not go up near as far as had been projected, because the public agreed to impose a penny sales tax on themselves. That special-purpose local-option sales tax (SPLOST) allowed about 40 percent of that cost to be paid by people who don’t live in Atlanta but make purchases in the city. All of that only paid for the first half of the federal court-mandated consent decree to fix the city’s combined sewers to reduce overflows, Shook explained.
Since the second half of the court-mandated work still has to be paid for, he is asking the city’s water/sewer management “to present a set of rates that we can start debating,” he said.
“Your rates will go up to pay for the court-ordered work,” Shook explained. The only question is whether the city has control over setting the increases or whether a court-appointed official will set the rates.
“If city council even hesitates setting those rates, the federal judge has made it very clear he will put us in receivership and appoint a special master who will have dictatorial rate setting authority,” Shook explained. “He will set the rates and there will be no public hearings.
“Your rates will go up. That is not a threat,” Shook told the group. “Other cities have fallen off consent decrees and that is what has happened,” he added. If that happens, “Wall Street will surely respond by lowering our bond ratings, which will drive the cost of borrowing up and we will have to bear hundreds of millions of dollars in interest rate insurance costs,” he concluded.
“There is a proposed drought surcharge, which I guess is supposed to punish us for saving water as we were asked to do,” Shook also pointed out to the audience. He said the saving of water has driven down the water/sewer revenues “which are a real necessary component for funding of our federally court-ordered water/sewer program.
“I personally don’t think it has dropped to a level that requires a drought surcharge,” he said. “I do not intend to support it unless I hear information that has yet to be presented. But, what is coming is a discussion of how we intend to fund that second half of that court-mandated program.”