$17.2M transfer may lead to water rate increase
by Nikki Wiley
September 11, 2013 12:00 AM | 3226 views | 9 9 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Cobb County will move forward with transferring about $17.2 million out of its water fund to pay for other county services, a habit some commissioners say can only lead to higher water rates.

The Board of Commissioners approved Tuesday an $816.7 million budget for the county which will take effect at the beginning of October. Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the budget with Bob Ott, who represents southeast Cobb, opposing.

The budget includes a 3 percent merit raise for all employees who earn a satisfactory evaluation. All commissioners have said they will not take the raise.

Siphoning revenue from the water department to cover gaps in the county’s general fund is a practice some commissioners say needs to stop. The general fund is what pays for most services.

“I have brought up the water system transfer for the last three years,” Ott said after casting his dissenting vote Tuesday.

Ott said it’s unfair to take money away from a department that is paid for by water customers. Water is an essential service, a commodity residents can’t live without, he said.

The transfers may lower one bill but they potentially raise another.

Cobb has shifted more than $225 million in water utility revenues to its general fund since 1998. Monthly water rates have jumped almost $23, or 59 percent for the average user, over the same 15-year period.

For the new budget, Cobb Chairman Tim Lee received enough votes to successfully take away $17.2 million from the water fund, or about $47,000 more than the $17 million transferred last year.

Lee defends the practice by saying that having a variety of income sources gives the county “one of the best budgets in the country.”

Lee also points to the budget’s 0.2 mill decrease in the millage rate that sets property taxes, a savings of $6 annually for a home valued at $100,000, $14 for a $200,000 home and $38 for a $500,000 home.

The millage rate, now set at 7.32 mills, still hasn’t fallen back to its 2011 rate of 6.82 mills.

“I believe we had to present a balanced budget that uses a wide range of sources,” Lee said.

But Ott says it’s misleading to reduce the millage rate and continue a practice that could lead to higher water rates.

He wants the commission to outline the necessary expenses pushing the county toward a budget shortfall that requires millions of dollars from the water department. Then, Ott said, the county should make its case to the public on why those expenses are needed in the form of a proposed millage increase.

That, he said, would let residents know what they’re paying for.

“If you need the money and you need a millage increase to do it, you need to call it a millage increase,” Ott said.

Lee declined to say if he thinks the water transfers need to be reined in over time, noting it’s only one part of what he says is a complicated issue.

Commissioner Helen Goreham, representing northwest Cobb, previously stood up for the transfer. Voicing her support again during Tuesday’s budget vote, she challenged her colleagues to find a solution.

“I do raise this red flag and charge this board to look at the shortfall that we have that is covered by the transfer,” Goreham said. “It’s one thing to take a position, and it’s another to come up with solutions.”

Ott and Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, who represents northeast Cobb, presented the board with $25 million in possible cuts about two years ago, Ott said, but those cuts weren’t implemented.

Birrell, too, wants the transfers to end, but said it will take time. Though the county is taking $47,000 more than it did last year, it isn’t taking as much as it could. Last year, the county budgeted for a $20.6 million transfer but only used $17.2 million.

Cobb financial policies approved by the Board of Commissioners allow for the transfer of up to 10 percent of the water department’s revenues. The $17.2 million being transferred this year amounts to 8 percent.

“I just want to say, as most of you know, over the last few years, I’ve been pushing for a decrease incrementally in the water transfer,” Birrell said. “I feel that we’re moving in the right direction by coming down to the 8 percent.”



Comments
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The Uninformed
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September 13, 2013
Unfortunately, those writing here sitll don't understand the real issues and part of that is because the media has concentrated on th eloud mouth of Ott. No tricks have been played on the public. Successull communities everywhere inthis great land have similar revenue streams. It is no secret and the result helps keep Cobb one of the best. And, the AAA bond ratings folks actually point to the diveersity of Cobb's revenues as a good thing. If the newspaper would give space to allowing a real explanation that would be nice. Instead, inempt reporting and misleading headlines seem to rule the day, doing nothng to help truy inform the brighter ones of the ocmmunity who wish to hear both sides succntely stated.
Old timer
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September 11, 2013
Something is wrong with this. We have lived in several counties in metro Atlanta....and two other states. The water here is VERY expensive....Clayton County being the best and cheapest. They should keep the surplus and reduce the rates. Water is a necessity....unless you have enough land to build a well.
thrasher1964
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September 11, 2013
Must be nice to get a 3% raise! I've been at my office for over 20 years, and the last 5 years without a raise. I think the county should consider that the economy is tough enough on it's citizens and quit borrowing money and passing onto us citizens! Seriously!
Diamond Jim
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September 11, 2013
Everyone in the county uses and pays for water, and if connected to a sewer system pays even more, since the ridiculous assumption is made that all water that goes through a meter winds up in the sewer. Lee points to the millage rate decrease which puts an average of six whole dollars back in property owners' pockets. Whoopee! It will be more than eaten up by a water rate increase. And what about those who are not homeowners? They will pay the rate increase and get no six buck reduction. This is just another back-door tax hike made necessary because our commissioners (except for Mr. Ott) do not have the backbone to make the necessary cuts and adjustments to live within available income, the way individual citizens have to do.
Gringo Bandito
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September 11, 2013
I blame the voters. We had a chance to get rid of Tim "The Taxman" Lee and didn't take it.
HappyHere
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September 11, 2013
It's amazing how this inflamatory and false article can appear right on the front page. Obviously the reporter either pre-wrote what she thought would take place at the meeting or she was sleeping through the Finance guy's presentation and all the Commissioners saying that the budget would include an 8 million dollar transfer instead of 18 million. She got Birrell's quote right at the end but that's about it. The four Board members worked hard to come up with a compromise that works for now and that they could accept and yet the MDJ gives no credit for going in the right direction and just continues their love affair with the instigator Ott.
Proud District 2
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September 11, 2013
Commissioner Ott I want to thank you for taking a stand and sticking to your convictions. You were not bought off by the Chamber, Mr. Lee or anyone else. You represented me and I would think many others in your district. Our water rate has increased over the many years of this transfer by 59 percent. This is outrageous. This 59 percent has directly impacted every resident in Cobb County. This is a TAX - how complicated is this Mr. Lee?

Thank you Commissioner Ott for taking this COMPLICATED issue and figuring it out and voting no for more taxes in Cobb County. How many tax increase does this make for you Mr. Lee since you have been Chair?
When??
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September 11, 2013
When will the citizens finally get fed up enough to put a stop to actions like this? I, for one, am sick and tired of having my water rates reach for the skies. Why doesn't someone get really creative and figure out a way to LOWER rates, not raise them?
Happy here
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September 11, 2013
Wow, did this reporter attend the same meeting that I did? She should have re-read Commissioner Birrell's last quote before writing the rest of the article. The budget that was presented and approved represented a compromise of 8% water transfer that four of the Board members worked hard to negotiate and accept. This is a big reduction from the previous proposal of 18% but apparently this reporter was sleeping through that part.
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