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Sewer rate battle in Atlanta ends

Guest donaltopablo

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Guest donaltopablo

Well, the rates are still going way up, but this resolves the battle over how to raise the rates and how much. This will avoid the moratorium and give the lower income households a chance to avoid some of the hefty increase through lower water usage.

Council, avoiding moratorium, approves new sewer rates

They bickered and argued for nearly two months, but on Monday night the warring factions at Atlanta City Hall finally hugged and slapped hands and went home smiling, happy with the knowledge that the city had dodged federal court sanctions.

The Atlanta City Council, after laboring for more than a month under the threat of a moratorium on development, adopted a series of rate increases on Monday that will pay for a massive overhaul of the city's water and sewer system.

A federal judge had warned he could impose a moratorium on water and sewer hook-ups had the city leaders failed to raise money for more than $1 billion in court-mandated sewer work.

As 10 p.m. neared, by a 15-0 vote, the City Council adopted a five-year package of rate increases that the mayor could live with. Mayor Shirley Franklin was thrilled: "We should compliment ourselves for turning the corner on clean water for the first real time in 30 years," she told an audience of council members and reporters after the vote. By that hour, nearly everyone else had gone home.

Council members have been wrapping up meetings late for weeks as they struggled to find a compromise on water and sewer rate increases. They adopted a billing plan on Dec. 1 that was too low for Franklin, and she vetoed it. She also notified environmental regulators that the city was preparing to defy court agreements to stop dumping sewage into the Chattahoochee and other rivers.

That put pressure on the council to find a compromise.

Councilman H. Lamar Willis, who missed a good deal of the argument while on a trip to South America, returned with a seemingly fresh idea.

He proposed a sliding scale based on water use. It was modified through the night, and the final version looks like this:

Each customer who uses 2,250 gallons of water a month or less will pay a 10 percent increase this year and a total of 58 percent more by 2008.

Consumption between 3,000 and 4,500 gallons a month will be billed at a rate 26 percent higher this year and 121 percent higher by 2008.

Water use in excess of 4,500 gallons a month will cost 45 percent more this year and 199 percent more by 2008, a tripling.

Franklin had proposed a tripling of the base water and sewer rates by 2008, but later backed an adjusted plan that charged no increase on the first 2,250 gallons consumed each month. The average residential consumption in Atlanta is 6,000 gallons a month, and under the plan Franklin had endorsed whoever used that amount would have paid 122 percent more by 2008, with a bill rising from $49.60 to $110.09. Under the plan adopted Monday, the same consumer's bill will rise from $49.60 to $107.57, a 117 percent increase.

Though the difference for average consumption is marginal, Willis said his plan does better for people who use less than the average. And by pressuring the mayor, the council was able to convince her to postpone $269 million in utility construction, which allowed for lower rates, he observed. And by making noise, the council also was able to draw out leaders in the state Legislature and the business community who have promised to push for a local sales tax to offset the rate increases. To top it off, he said, the adopted rate plan brings in more revenue.

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