Monroe County Commissioners on Tuesday, Nov. 19 hiked water rates for county customers in hopes of making the water department break even, and may raise them again in coming years.

While commissioners maintained a base rate of $16 for residential customers and $75 for commercial customers using up to 1,000 gallons of water per month, commissioners raised rates for water usage beyond 1,000 gallons.

Instead of only paying the base rate for commercial for up to 2,000 gallons per month, customers using between 1,000 gallons and 2,000 gallons will now pay an additional $5.50 per month. Residential customers using between 2,000 and 4,000 gallons per month will also pay $5.50 per month for each additional 1,000 gallons. Residential customers using between 4,000 gallons and 10,000 gallons will pay $6.50 per month for each additional 1,000 gallons. Also, residential customers exceeding 10,000 gallons per month will pay $7.50 per month for each additional 1,000 gallons.

Commercial customers using between 1,000 gallons and 10,000 gallons will pay $5.50 per month for each additional 1,000 gallons. Commercial customers using between 10,000 gallons and 40,000 gallons will pay $7 each month for each additional 1,000 gallons. Also, commercial customers exceeding 40,000 gallons per month will pay $8 per month for each additional 1,000 gallons.

The new rates will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2020.

County manager Jim Hedges projects the additional revenue collected as a result of the rate increase will enable the county to break even on water operations in 2020 after the water department lost about $250,000 in operations in 2019. However, Hedges also proposed continuing to increase rates per 1,000 gallons incrementally over the next four years to allow the water department also to break even in depreciation costs, which totaled nearly $800,000 in 2019. While commissioners unanimously approved to set the higher 2020 rates, they decided to evaluate rates for future years on an annual basis.

Commissioners determined the amount to raise water rates based on a study conducted by the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government. The Carl Vinson Institute also recently conducted a county employee salary study that resulted in raises totaling over $600,000 annually.

District 2 commissioner Eddie Rowland, who has county water, said he thinks property owners who don’t have county water should not be subsidizing county water losses through property taxes.

“I do feel like with water that the water usage and the cost of water should equal the amount of money we get from our customers,” Rowland said. “It’s only fair. Some of you guys might have wells out there. Why should you contribute to me having county water? It’s not fair.”

County commission chairman Greg Tapley, who has a well, said Rowland’s right but added that property owners not using county water are still receiving a benefit because they’re paying lower fire insurance protection rates as a result of county water lines.