Columbus Water Works rate increases to continue through 2012

It’s the Catch-22 of water consumption: Use more water, and your water bill goes up based on your usage. Use less water, and your water rate goes up, because the Columbus Water Works loses revenue when customers conserve, and needs rate increases to cover costs.

The water authority over the past five years has pulled $6.7 million from its reserves to cover expenses, and lost revenue because of state-mandated water restrictions during Georgia’s drought.

It is operating on a five-year plan that calls for annual rate increases of 3.9 percent, though the adopted increase in 2008 was 3.88 percent, and this year it was 3.77 percent. Similar hikes are expected each year through 2012.

The rate hike proposed to take effect Jan. 1 would increase the price of water by 3.82 percent. That’s projected to add $1.74 to the average bill for residential service, boosting it from $45.84 a month to $47.58.

Water Works President Bob Tant said the average Columbus household uses 7,500 gallons a month. Systemwide, including businesses and industries, the average usage is twice that.

During a public hearing on the rate increase Tuesday before Columbus Council, Tant was asked if the Water Works expected to get any economic stimulus money from federal authorities.

“They’ve led us up to the altar a couple of times and jilted us,” Tant said, adding that the Water Works has tried to get stimulus funds but has been turned down.

Though Columbus Council hosted the public hearing, councilors do not decide whether the water authority may increase rates. That decision is left to the board of water commissioners, which will vote on the rate hike at its Dec. 14 meeting.

Also Tuesday, council held a public hearing on rezoning Cross Country Plaza from “neighborhood commercial” to “general commercial,” a move that may help fill vacant stores. Under the current zoning, Cross Country is prohibited from having any business larger than 5,000 square feet, a space 18 tenants already exceed. Owned by Glenwood Cross Country, the shopping center fell into that zoning category when Columbus adopted a Unified Development Ordinance in 2005.

Neighbors agreed to support the rezoning with some restrictions. No building in the section known as Cross Country on the Hill may be taller than 27 feet, and among the uses to be prohibited are: taxidermy, tattoo parlors, homeless shelters, pawn shops, kennels, mobile home sales, bus stations, flea markets, auto sales or repair and storage facilities.

In other action, council:

-- Approved the purchase of homes imperiled by flooding during heavy rains in February and March. The houses are to be demolished and cleared. The city will pay $113,000 for 3500 Califon Court, $133,000 for 3502 Califon Court, $166,000 for 3505 Califon Court and $62,000 for 827 Englewood Drive.

-- Hired McMath-Turner Construction for a $1.5 million Veterans Parkway streetscape project that’s to enhance the roadsides and intersections along the parkway from 13th Street south to Eighth Street.