While most customers of Fulton County water have seen their rates dip recently, a sizable chunk of Roswell households, who already pay more for water, are in line for price hikes.
The city remains committed to running its own water system, though it supplies only 15 percent of its residents and often buys water from Fulton County to meet demand. Its customers, some 5,600 households and businesses, are the only north Fulton residents not serviced by the county or Atlanta. The vast majority of Roswell gets its water from Fulton County.
A typical household on Roswell water pays $22 per month based on about 5,000 gallons of consumption. The same Roswell household on county water pays 30 percent less, $16.83 a month. The difference is greater as consumption increases.
And that’s not all.
The city recently approved a $16 million project to replace its 80-year-old water plant with a state-of-the-art facility.
The cost to water customers, originally estimated to be about $1 extra a month over the course of the 20-year loan, may have to be adjusted higher. Water officials say latest estimates show the city will need to raise rates over time by 8 percent.
So why is Roswell in the water business?
“Because monopolies are not good,” Mayor Jere Wood said.
The presence of the Roswell system helps keep Fulton County and Atlanta in check with their water rates, Wood said. Those who doubt it, should look at Sandy Springs’ rate fight with Atlanta or Forsyth County’s trouble negotiating a water contract with Cumming, he said.
“Common sense is dead,” said Janet Russell, a city water customer who has campaigned for the city to get its mitts out of the utility. “Why are we staying in the water business when we are charging more than Fulton County?”
Kent Igleheart, the only City Council member who is on city water, said he advocated relinquishing the utility.
“I personally thought we should turn it over to Fulton County, but no one else agreed with that,” he said.
Roswell resident Lee Fleck said he fears non-customers could get stuck holding the bag.
It’s already happening, he said.
The city charges itself residential rates, instead of lower commercial rates, for much of the water it uses, Fleck said. That means the city is charging itself a premium price for water and letting all residents subsidize the utility through taxes, he said.
Public Works Director Stu Moring said there are different rates for different-sized city facilities. Large operations often get a commercial rate, entitling them to lower rates in cases of high consumption. Smaller facilities are charged residential rates, which can soar if consumption is high.
The water department treats city property the same as any of its customers, Moring said.
Fleck estimates the city overbills itself $104,000 — covered by taxes — each year by not charging the lower rate at all its properties.
“I want to make certain … that all costs associated with [the utility] remain a cost to the customers and not to the general population,” he said.