The increase comes as a result of a 6 percent rise in wholesale rates charged to the city by the Cobb County-Marietta Water Authority. City Administrator Eric Taylor said an ordinance approved by the Smyrna City Council on June 4 automatically passes along whatever rate the water authority charges its customers, without requiring an additional vote.
Taylor said the change was a reaction to several consecutive years of water rate increases from the water authority, which is looking to offset repair costs.
“It’s one of those things that’s going to happen every year anyway,” he said. “In the past we would wait until February or March to pass it on. The new Council decided that anytime there is a rate change, to just pass it on.”
Councilman Ron Fennel said the decision was a commonsense move to deal with something the city doesn’t control.
“It just makes sense,” Fennel said. “If the rate is what the rate is, we can’t affect the rate.”
According to the notice sent in the most recent water bill, a customer who uses 7,000 gallons of water a month will see an increase of $1.61 to the monthly water bill. Sewer, storm water and based rates are not expected to change.
Like Smyrna, water customers in Marietta will also see a 6 percent rate increase on their bills this month. But that rate hike required a vote by the City Council, which unanimously approved the increase in December.
Marietta Mayor Steve Tumlin said he supports an automatic pass-along when the water authority raises or lowers its rates, but the idea has picked up little traction among the Council. Because the wholesalers from which the city buys water, electricity and sewer services are all publicly owned and subject to open records requests, Tumlin said people can see where the money is going.
“We’re not buying from somebody where there’s a kickback involved or something else is going on,” he said. “(Voting) makes this more political. I think we need to make this pure business.”
The water authority provides drinking water to customers, including Cobb and Paulding counties; the cities of Marietta, Smyrna, Austell and Powder Springs; and Lockheed Martin Corp.
Cobb County was able to avoid a planned 3 percent water rate increase for its customers for 2013 by letting the county’s water system keep $3.4 million of the $20 million it has been required to transfer into the county general fund to help balance the budget.