Mt. Airy blames need to increase water rates on SPLOST failure
Mt. Airy residents and businesses will experience a $3 monthly water rate increase, with blame placed on failure of voters to pass a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax in November.
Town council members discussed the increase during a Fiscal Year 2014 budget public hearing held prior to council’s Dec. 2 regular monthly meeting. Council approved the rate increase and the budget during the meeting.
The water department saw a $265,000 budget increase, almost doubling the budget from approximately $278,750 up to $543,750.
The increase stems from council budgeting for an expected replacement of the city’s main water transmission line.
The town “had to put the waterline installation into the budget,” said Mayor Gary Morris during the hearing. “The SPLOST thing [election loss] has hurt us on that,” Morris said, referring to the water rate increase.
“SPLOST or no SPLOST we’ve got to have it,” Morris said, of the water rate increase. “We’ve got to have that line in for basic service.”
Morris noted the town is continuing to look at construction funding alternatives, such as borrowing against a $200,000 certificate of deposit the town has banked, “kind of like an in-house loan,” Morris said.
The waterline being replaced “is the main transmission line everything else feeds off of,” said Councilman Ray McAllister.
“This is a direct result of not getting SPLOST money,” McAllister said.
Councilman Mike McCoy asked the town to “earmark the money for that project each month” so residents will know the rate increase is paying for the new waterline.
Morris noted a portion of the increase is necessary to convert water department bills from a “postcard” type bill to a bill enclosed within an envelope. The conversion was necessary because concerns over personal privacy had been raised.
SPLOST VI was the only item on the county’s Nov. 5 election ballot. The current penny on the dollar SPLOST V is set to end in March 2014. If approved, SPLOST VI was to continue the tax for a six-year time frame.
In other business, council:
• Heard a Historic Preservation Plan presentation regarding the town’s former Mt. Airy school. The plan is a project requested by the town to Habersham Archway Partnership. The Partnership arranged a study by University of Georgia graduate students, which was presented by Elizabeth Elliott. The building is “structurally sound” but the building interior has suffered damage from rain leaking in from the roof. Elliott recommended stabilizing and mothballing the building until the town determines a future use for the building;
• Approved the town’s Short-Term Work Plan, part of the regular updating of the county/municipalities Comprehensive Growth Plan;
• Approved retail beer, wine and liquor sales licenses for several stores, including 123 Bottle Shop, Four Oaks Package Store, Lake Russell 1 Stop Convenience Store, Mt. Airy Package Store and Ivy Mountain Distillery. GLA Grocery and Mount Airy Express received approval contingent on the town receiving documents demonstrating Georgia state government approval.