NORMAN PARK — Residents of Norman Park will see increases to their water rate soon, but the city council can’t say just yet how much that change will be.

The city has suffered significant losses to the general fund and water fund because water has been pumped but not billed for, the council said Monday during the first of three public hearings to allow residents to discuss the rate hike. Only one resident came to the hearing, and he came more to find out about rumors than about the rate increase.

Mayor Dan McGee said the city issued bills for only 1.8 million gallons of water in November, but it actually pumped 4.2 million gallons. A big part of the blame fell on antiquated water meters.

McGee said the city has already begun updating its meters. Many of them have not been updated in years and were not accurately measuring a slow flow of water.

McGee said the city has had to draw money from its general fund to subsidize the losses from the water fund. In fact, the water department has lost money for the last four years, he said, mostly because of water use that wasn’t billed.

McGee said another reason for the rate increases was to meet requirements of a grant the city received from the Georgia Environmental Facilities Authority (GEFA). The GEFA grant requires the city collect 90 percent of the costs from water usage.

“We won’t receive the grant because our rates are too low,” McGee said. “The state won’t help us until we help ourselves.”

McGee said the city does not yet know what the new water rates will be, but it will maintain its minimum 3,000-gallon-per-month base rate. Whatever the new rates will be, some low-usage customers may actually see a decrease in rates while high-usage customers will see an increase, he said, but the rates based on usage will balance each other out.

“We’re trying to get everyone to pay for what they use,” McGee said. “We’ve got to start charging for water use.”

City Manager Chris Wainwright said the new rates will be similar to an “incentive usage of water” for residents. There are many things residents can do to reduce their water use, he said, such as fixing leaking faucets, which use up to 70 gallons of water in a 24-hour period.

Ted Gibbs, an engineer who has been working with the city council, said the city is not raising its water rates in order to make a profit. The city is making an effort to have the water fund pay for itself, fill in the debt from past collection issues and create a capital improvement fund to prevent the debt from occurring again.

Councilmember Mark Powell said the city will start looking at water use from the time water leaves the well until it enters the wastewater system.

Jerry Ferguson, the Norman Park resident who attended the hearing, asked the council about the city about building a new well. McGee said the city needs a well that will last for 25 years, but the condition of the current wells will not last that long.

The city plans to add a well; McGee said a new well will come at a price, but increased water rates will help with the cost. The city did receive a grant to make temporary refurbishments to the current wells, but those refurbishments do not prevent sand and other sediment from entering the current well, causing problems to the water flow.

Norman Park’s water system suffered a severe blow in 2004 when a hole was found in the main well, then the back-up well broke down before the main well could be repaired.

The council has planned to hold another public hearing on the water issue on Friday, Jan. 27, and a third on Friday, Feb. 10. Both meetings will begin at 6 p.m. and will be held at Norman Park City Hall. Any residents who would like to address the council about the water issues are encouraged to attend the public hearings so that the council can get input.

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