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Imker wants redo on sewer rate hike

Several citizens Thursday night asked the Peachtree City Council to dissolve its Water and Sewer Authority in light of sewer fee hikes approved last week that will in many cases double the bills

of residential customers.

Mayor Don Haddix said while the city could take over management of the city’s sewer system in lieu of WASA, city taxpayers would still be on the hook for the $34.1 million in bonds that are scheduled to be repaid in full by 2027.

City Councilman Eric Imker noted that the average Peachtree City home pays $705 a year in property taxes for all city services including public safety and more, while WASA’s fee with the Dec 1 rate hike brings that average homeowner’s sewer bill to $540 a year.

“The WASA rate increase was about the equivalent of a 3 mill (property tax) increase,” Imker said. “... I guarantee you, had this begun when Photocircuits left, things would be much different now.”

Imker was referring to the Photocircuits production plant in the industrial park which closed in 2005. The company was one of the system’s largest customers, and sewer officials never were able to replace that revenue loss, sewer officials said.

WASA GM Steven Hogan displayed a chart showing WASA’s revenue peaking in 2004 at $6.9 million a year, but from 1999 to this year, operating expenses increased from $2.28 million to $3.41 million a year, leaving the authority short on funds to pay the annual dept service by $455,000 in 2008 and by $660,000 in 2009.

Instead, WASA officials said they used the system’s reserves to cover the shortfall.

The authority’s reserve funds took a further hit this year when WASA had to withdraw $1.1 million to serve as bond surety when the firm backing the bonds was downgraded from a AAA credit rating to a CCC rating, Hogan explained.

That put WASA’s reserves at about $1 million, and Hogan has recommended the authority not shrink them further.

Imker asked WASA to reconsider its rate increase and instead spread out the affect over the next several years with gradual increases, which he said should have been enacted beginning several years ago when one of the system’s largest customers, Photocircuits, shut its doors, causing a significant revenue loss for the authority.

Beyond appointing WASA members to five-year terms, the city council has no power over WASA as it is an independent authority, other than a restriction that allows Council the ability to deny any extension of the sewer system outside the city limits.

Imker said if WASA doesn’t revisit its new rate structure, he feels strongly that the four WASA members who voted for the increase “need not reapply” for their volunteer, unpaid, positions.

WASA Chairman Williams suggested that if the city decided it was best to dissolve the authority and run the sewer system itself, the WASA board would understand. He again pointed out that the WASA board consists of unpaid volunteers, and he also noted they didn’t enact the rate increase to be spiteful, but instead to be prepared for the future.

Some $27.2 million of WASA’s $34.1 million in outstanding bonds was issued initially to finance the acquisition of the sewer system in 1997 and the total grew in 2002 when $15.34 million was used to expand the Rockaway sewer treatment plant and build WASA’s new headquarters to replace its dilapidated temporary trailers.

The initial bonds to acquire the sewer system were refinanced in 2005 for $24.56 million.

WASA’s annual debt service payment of $3.24 million was cited as one of the top reasons for a need to raise the sewer rates, a move that will cause the majority of city residents’ bills to increase by $20 or more.

WASA Chairman Wade Williams said the authority has put off capital improvements for several years, but needs to re-start that program to prevent sewer pipe failures that could have a drastic affect on city residents.

WASA GM Hogan said that another reason for increasing the sewer rates is a provision in the authority’s bond covenants that it must have a 1.1 to 1 ratio of revenue available each year to “cover” the annual debt service payment. That ratio has dipped to 0.85 and 0.78 the past two years, according to WASA documents.

In addition to having some sewer pipe that is approaching 40 and 50 years old, WASA also maintains 35 pump stations, 24 of which have backup generators so they can work in case of a power outage. The system includes some 117 miles of pipes and over 4,000 manholes in the city and 2 water treatment plants which both discharge most of the city’s treated sewage into Line Creek. A portion of the city’s treated wastewater is discharged into Flat Creek.

WASA is currently treating an average of 3.3 million gallons a day while it is permitted to treat up to 6 million gallons a day.

The fee hike starts December 1, and was approved on a 4-1 vote of the city’s Water and Sewer Authority board last week.

WASA members, all of whom are unpaid volunteers, said the increase was necessary due to a drop in revenue over the past few years due to reduced water usage and also a practical halt to new development in the city and the sewer tap-in fees that come in with it.

The new $26 base fee, which will be paid by all sewer customers both residential and commercial, will solely pay for WASA’s annual debt service payment of $3.24 million. That will keep those funds from being paid for by the fluctuating rate payments, which are assessed based on how much water is used each month by all property owners in the city.

It has been noted that the City Council turned down a plan to extend the city’s sewers into Senoia which would have paid the city $3 million up front and $50,000 a month to provide 500,000 gallons of sewer service a day to Senoia. That revenue could have prevented this rate increase, several WASA officials have noted.

WASA this year also took a big hit on its reserve fund, having to cough up more than $1 million after the surety on its revenue bond had a severe credit rating drop, forcing the authority to self-fund the backing of the bonds. While the authority maintains that funding, it is set aside in a separate account and cannot be touched as a typical reserve fund could, officials have said.

Imker in his statement also criticized WASA for having astronomical sewer tap-in fees, which are charged for each new building that is attached to the city’s sewer system. Imker said lower fees could help spur small business growth in the city.

Imker also criticized WASA for allowing $70,000 in its budget for both merit and cost of living increases for WASA employees. In the past two years, city employees have gone without salary increases, and also social security pensioners have gone without cost of living increases, Imker noted.



blazing2006's picture

This was pretty much a non-event. I was expecting to see a coucil chamber that was standing room only. And while the seats were pretty much full I was still expecting to see more folks. But again, that's based on these blogs. You'd think for a moment that you'd be able to get a picture of how people are feeling about issues by reading comments on the Citizen but I believe that it is very false to do that.
Last night the same ole people showed up and wanted their opinions heard. I've learned over the years that when the mayor(s) call you by your first name to speak during citizen comments that usually isn't a good thing. Even the tone of Haddix represented that last night. I kinda got the impression of the Mayor saying " Ok Leon, come on up and give your 2 cents.....again." 9 out of 10 people speaking gave very stupid remarks and aksed even dumber questions. It was a bunch of bumbling mumbo jumbo quite frankly. Why don't folks come better prepared?
The meeting was interesting. I thought Imker's speech was at best another opportuntiy to stroke his own ego. He act's if though this was a huge shock to him and most in the room. The reality is it was not.
We have been told for years this day would come if Wasa didn't find other revenue sources. How anyone can act surprised is beyond me.
The sad thing is Larry Turner(RIP) found those revenue streams and the previous council shot it down. This council, as well, shot down Fischer Crossing. Rediculous!!
If someone can, and is going to , build up to your property line and there isn't a dang thing you can do or say about BUT you have an opportunity to reap some bucks from the deal - DO IT!! The building is happening and is going to continue to happen. Reap something from it then. Some would love to keep the "bubble" intact. I get it. But at what cost? You will tax people right out of here and then what will you have left.
Imker made one good point in his rambling speech and that was for the board to go back and see if it was possible/feasible to stretch this out over some time. That would be nice.
Another hot topic was the announcement or way of advertising the Authority meetings. This just seemed dumb to me that it was even being discussed as much as it was. For pete's sake people, every Authority have their meetings scheduled and is posted on the city website. It's given to the paper.
One guy had the audacity to get up to the mic and let us all know that he didn't get the email until the day and time of the meeting. He was a real gem. I almost had to laugh out loud at the sheer studity of that comment. He had to be an engineer. LOL Common sense people. It was really lacking from Imker and several of the citizens who yapped into the mic.
We go to the polls again in alittle less than two weeks. This is yet another wake up call to citizens to listen, learn and get off your stupid couch and GO VOTE!! It matters. And it is very relevant to this topic. Again GO VOTE!!!!

R. Butler's picture

I am always amazed to find out how little people know about how their city actually functions. Citizens continue to be "shocked" to learn that sewers are financed by bonds. Or that disbanding WASA won't "fix" a rate increase. I know that paying attention to this type of stuff isn't as exciting as watching Jersey Shores, but people need to get real here and participate in life...

I also have to say that I am disappointed by Councilmen Imker's performance to date. It seems all he does is raise populist sound-bites with very little thought as to their actual merit. Case-in-point: his call for repealing the merit and cost of living raises. It is easy to say that sewer employees should not receive such raises since city employees didn't. But as a city councilman, I would hope that more substantial questions might be raised and addressed.

1) In terms of percentage, how much is $71,000 within the total rate hike? Should we really be getting spun up over that number as opposed to focusing on other more significant costs?

2) How does our employee compensation rate comparatively to other regional systems? If you can tell me that our people are paid at the top of the tier, then you can make a case that the raises are not warranted. If our people are only paid at around the industry average, providing such incentives to retain their employment may be a good investment if the performance is warranted.

3) How are they doing relative to managing the system and maintaining acceptable sewer quality. And this is important. It only takes a few mistakes related to dumping improperly treated waste-water into rivers to make the the state and federal fines add up. For comparison, I point out the City of Atlanta...

There is that old saying that you get what you pay for. With respect to municipal services, I believe that we should be focused on the best long-term value for our dollars.

Robert W. Morgan's picture

Several points that need to be driven home to our "leadership" and others
Yes indeed, anyone who is surprised by this sewer rate hike is a complete bozo. The warnings have been there for years - if not decades. Council after council have heard those warnings and ignored them and instead focused on other issues - like Haddix is doing with the ARC thing.

Yes, the regulars at council meetings are mostly a sorry lot. They mostly complain and never offer their services or talent to the city. Mostly they like talking into a microphone and occasionally getting their picture in the paper. Its not all bad, occasionally one of those gadflys will step forward and run for mayor and ........, never mind.

Worst of all are the handwringers who whine about density and growth on our borders and the elected officials who pander to these fools by not extending sewer service to paying users who would render this sewer hike a non-issue. It goes back to the 1980's when Tyrone wanted in, but we say no and then many others - always no. The Senoia thing was especially stupid since the rate hike was promised at the same meeting they turned down the request. Short-sighted fools pandering to a bunch of know-nothing crybabies.

Yes indeed, by all means vote and vote wisely. Shame we have nothing or no one in PTC to vote on, but thanks to your new doubling of a sewer bill, you'll remember this in 2 years when you can vote for change in PTC, although who is to say someone new will act any different.

And Eric, think this through, big guy. Do you think changing the water and sewer board or forcing them to change their vote does anything to increase revenue, decrease expenses or make the needed improvements go away? Focus on the real problem - WE NEED MORE USERS! WE HAVE CAPACITY AND PERMITS FOR 6 MILLION GALLONS A DAY!

Live free or die!

PTC Observer's picture

You are absolutely correct; I have been to the council meetings, carefully trying to remain unnoticed.

The public is generally unprepared but you can say that they are there and showing interest. Self-interest is the primary motivation for their attendance. I suppose that is to be expected.

What has always been a big disappointment to me is the lack of interest and participation of the citizenry in their government. Voter turnout has been a constant disappointment. It says something about our character when we don’t even attempt to engage with one of the most powerful forces in our lives, the government.

I suppose that the situation must get very very bad before a real grassroots movement begins. Perhaps we are not there yet locally, but we certainly are there nationally.

Peachtree City councilman Eric Imker held a press conference Saturday afternoon to demand that game 7 of the 1991 World Series between the Minnesota Twins and the Atlanta Braves be replayed in its entirety.

"I've talked to a great many people here in Peachtree City, and none of them...none!...were pleased with the outcome of that World Series" said Imker.

Imker proposed having the rematch between the two ballclubs at the Peachtree City baseball fields. "It's a win-win situation for both the city and the Atlanta Braves" remarked Imker. "You have to like the Braves chances in a rematch, particularly since Kirby Puckett of the Twins is dead".

Imker declared that the profits from this game would go to worthy charities, such as Goodwill, St. Vincent DePaul Catholic Charities and the ImkerForMayor2012 committee.

NUK_1's picture

That would be Imker!

I love how he wishes WASA had raised sewer rates years ago so the increase wouldn't be so large now. Of course, the PTC Council didn't do that either and Imker was the deciding vote to have a big millage hike this year, and in favor.

As far as the comments below of how stupid some of the regulars are at Council meetings....100% accurate. I think that is a factor in the paltry attendance because who wants to listen to the same whiny, ignorant and just plain dumb people over and over and over? For years. The I-hate-everything crowd does attend every meeting so I guess they deserve some "credit" for that, but really, why not just stay home when I can tell you exactly what they are going to say before they reach the podium to blather and bitch?

Disbanding WASA so the city can take it over is so much FAIL and doesn't make the debt service or operating expenses suddenly disappear. Telling 4 volunteers "you had better not re-apply for this position!" is laughable. I'm sure they are crushed to learn that blowhard buffoon Imker won't vote for their re-appointments to an unpaid job.

blazing2006's picture

Imker is nothing more than a one term councilman. He shouldn't have won this last time. I guess that's what happens when only like 26 percent of registered voters actually vote. It really makes it so much easier for blowhards like Imker to win.
The WASA board should be commended. They could have easily made the more popular decision and instead did what was neccessary to maintain an effective sewer system.
I personally want to thank each of them for their commitment to Peachtree City. Hmmm, I think they make less money than the council and put in probably just as many hours. Just my guess.

Tough decisions are never easy but we should be thankful we have people of honor in place that are willing to make them.

So you'd rather have council sit on their arse and not do anything? Imker was the council rep to WASA and as such spoke to points no one can refute.
I guess you like reading that these WASA folks got raises the last 2 years when no one else was. Heck, it's only a 1/4 million dollars in salary.

Had nothing been said I guess you'd be complaining that council didn't care about the citizens. What a whiner you are.

How much did your November taxes go up as a result of the mil change? Yep, that's right, they went down, yet you whine and whine and whine.

Imker has left this city with a balanced budget and only future councils can screw it up. We had to pay for services already used and previous councils, in their efforts to get reelected, refused to raise taxes and thereby caused us an ultimate higher tax rate than we should have needed. Get off Imker's case and acknowledge his one of a kind, not worried about reelection, doing what's best for the city approach.

Don Haddix's picture

Brief notes:
1. I assigned Imker to WASA out of concern about future rates and other issues. As the Council Liaison to WASA in 2009 I reported back concerns. On their proposed 10% rate increase they were persuaded by Councilman Sturbaum and myself to split the increase over two years with the hopes they would find alternative solutions. As well we have looked into alternatives for a couple of years now from the Council side. Bottom line here is this didn't all just begin with the current WASA rate increase.
2. Not everyone's tax bill went down. I have had a number of people tell me their bills went up $200 to over $400 dollars. Some areas were heavily depreciated in prior years and now are actually rising in value. That means the incurred increases in their BoE, County and PTC taxes. Yet, they took hits on their personal incomes.
3. The Budget is not balanced for the future by the 1.25. The full proposal is four more years of .5 increased each year, more if the economy slips further. So, the full proposal is at least a 3.25 Mill increase over 5 years.
6. True, past Councils didn't do what they needed. Councilman Sturbaum and I pushed for Budget and Service changes in 2008 and 2009 along with a .250 mill increase in 2008 and then again in 2009. We got some changes only in 2009, some of which had a lot of mad citizens at the time. But even then we knew hinging everything on tax increases was a serious mistake.
7. Defunding DAPC was a mistake. We have already lost many efforts to energy our shopping center. Other issues are popping up that neither the Council nor a Coordinator can legally touch. So I can and did refute the position Authorities are bad and that Councils are always the beast source of control. As well the Economic Development Workshop refuted it as well. The successful development examples in the State come from such as the Macon, Savannah and Valdosta Authorities. Nor do all proposals come from the State down or go through the County.

The tax increase plus the WASA rate increase has resulted in more homes for sale, according to some personal contacts and a Realtor friend. Additionally we are now looking at a proposal for another 2 mills over the next four years and a TSPLOST in 2012.

A bad Council hurts us, a good Council benefits us. A bad Authority hurts us, a good authority helps us. The most beneficial help to us is a good Council and good Authority working together with each recognizing and fulfilling their proper roles.

Just giving the broader framework on what is going on here overall as regards our Budget and economy.

<cite><strong>Don Haddix
Peachtree City Mayor</strong></cite>

NUK_1's picture

A) Try to comprehend the written word. The raises are clearly stated and that's NOT a "quarter of a million dollars" but I guess that sounds better to people who might not the facts.

B) Nothing Imker did this year balanced the budget for the future. Do you not realize there will be millage increases the next 4-5 years? How is that leaving future councils with a "balanced budget" when the Council is going to have to keep raising the millage?

C) yes, I'd rather the Council sit on the arse and not do anything about it. Imker showing up and making a total jackass out of himself yet again in public helps absolutely no one. He'll be about as unpopular as Steve Brown within even less of the time in PTC.

D) My taxes didn't go down and you have no idea about what you are claiming as "fact."

The internet message board world is full of incessant complainers, but I'll admit I've never come across someone who complains more without offering constructive solutions.

Imker didn't balance the budget? What the heck are you on? The city now has a plan, if followed by selfless and non-political driven future councils, to be completely debt free in a few years. Yes, unfortunately the plan involves tax increases, but at least Imker had the guts to do it whereas previous councils kept sweeping the problem down the road to keep their political images intact.

Where would we be without Imker's budget work this past year? Oh, that's right, with an even LARGER tax burden hitting us in the face years down the road.

Oh, and the kicker is that Imker spent months, including productive town-hall meetings, to come up with real solutions to solve these budget woes WITHOUT a tax hike. I'm not here to criticize and point fingers at any other council members, but it certainly isn't Imker's fault the rest of the council couldn't stomach making some government cuts and tough decisions to avoid these tax increases. I commend him for making the most of the hand dealt to him and, when it was evident a tax increase was the only thing the other council members would go for, doing his homework to determine the lowest burden formula over the next few years and doing what is in the best interest for the city, even if it means sacrificing his "campaign image". That's more than can be said for 99% of politicians out there.

Instead of throwing rocks, where's your solution to the city's budget problem?

NUK_1's picture

Anything I bitch about, I also offer my opinions on the best solutions. I don't know how many times in the last couple of years I have said that PTC either has to raise taxes, cut personnel costs, and best solution, do both. What they are doing is raising taxes, a move supported by Imker after he didn't get his way on trying to reduce costs.

Imker has publically insulted city employees and city volunteers at DPAC and WASA to the point that he'll never get consensus on some of his better ideas because of his fat mouth,unprofessional attitude and hypocritical attitude on taxation. Haddix isn't a leader, but Imker may even be worse.

[quote=NUK_1]Anything I bitch about, I also offer my opinions on the best solutions. I don't know how many times in the last couple of years I have said that PTC either has to raise taxes, cut personnel costs, and best solution, do both. What they are doing is raising taxes, a move supported by Imker after he didn't get his way on trying to reduce costs.[/quote]

Imker explored cutting personnel costs, just as you suggest, and when it wasn't supported by the other council members, he voted for the tax plan which minimized the overall cost burden. Sounds like you and Imker are at least along the same lines of agreement. So...... what's your problem?

[quote=NUK_1] Imker has publically insulted city employees and city volunteers at DPAC and WASA to the point that he'll never get consensus on some of his better ideas because of his fat mouth,unprofessional attitude and hypocritical attitude on taxation. Haddix isn't a leader, but Imker may even be worse.[/quote]

Lol, if you call what Imker has said "insulting", perhaps you'd like more sugar-coating fluff politicians that can't make a straight point to save his/her life. I've listened to every single council meeting and not once has he said ANYTHING that a sane person should find insulting. Unless, of course, you feel that someone telling you that the job you did producing this budget, product, etc is garbage is "insulting". People need to be held accountable for their actions and work. Imker calls them out on it and it's refreshing as hell to finally see someone call out garbage when it's there. Not once has he personally or unprofessionally attacked or hurt someone's personal life.

NUK_1's picture

A) 1.25millage increase after everything he said before getting elected.
B) Talking "tough" did nothing but ensured that the other 4 councilmembers weren't even going to bother to consider his proposals, especially since some of his criticisms were based on a lack of knowledge on the subject(s). It also brought an amount of sympathy towards city employees and made them suddenly untouchable.
C) Bashing WASA for not raising taxes in previous years when he just did the exact same thing on the PTC Council and seems to have no understanding of how the whole rate situation developed over the years, same as the financial condition of PTC over the years.
D) Him and Haddix going at it on the dais and here, which is obviously not solely Imker's fault.
E) His performance with DAPC I thought was horrid and WAS in fact insulting to them. Cutting their funding is a real boneheaded move too, IMO, and seemed to be for the very same reason he went the 1.25 route: he had a tantrum over Haddix and did it out of spite.

Points A, B, and C above all stem from the same "Imker and the tax increase" tree. You still seem to try to peg this tax-increase on him. Re-read my initial post and your points above. Your problem should be with the council members NOT supporting budget cuts, tax-free budget solutions, etc. Not the one who discovered and brought to the public's attention this city's monumental budget problem and the one who derived/supported tax-free solutions. You said yourself your idea for budget solutions would include cuts. Where is your mindless bashing of every other council member/city employee who failed to come up with ideas or support a cut? Where were the other council members ideas for tax-avoiding solutions? If your gripe with Imker is his seemingly "put-offish" attitude then all I would say to you (and those council members who may be put-off, if indeed that were truly the case) is tough beans. You were elected to do a job. Put aside your personal feelings and do/vote what's necessary.

As for point D, fine. If you want to have a problem with Imker for getting heated with the Mayor, you do that. At least this gripe makes sense.

Point E is ridiculous. For one, projects in business get funding cut all the time. Nothing insulting or horrid about that. As I mentioned in my second post above, to say the way he went about this was "insulting" is a last ditch effort to try to find something to complain about. Good grief. I'm sure no one in DAPC went home and cried that Imker told them that parts of their performance weren't good enough. Secondly, the actual cost/benefit analysis of cutting DAPC is something neither you or I know yet or will know for some time to come. If cutting DPAC turns out to be a horrible move, then fine, Imker and the other councilwomen were wrong about this. Nothing but speculation for now, though. Third, to claim that Imker went the 1.25 route out of spite against Haddix is just asinine. Does it just glaze over you that the 1.25 option was actually the lower burden option of the two? Your wild speculations make your "problem" with Imker seem more like a personal vendetta than trying to better our community.

NUK_1's picture

Maybe my expectations of Imker were too high initially and he will level-off and bring something to the table in the future. As I said at the time he made a series of proposals prior to the budget hearings this year, a lot of them made sense. Then, everything seemed to head downhill rapidly.

I certainly don't absolve Fleisch(didn't vote for her), Learnard(sure as hell didn't vote for her as she's a big govt liberal and in favor of single-payer government-run health insurance and proud enough to write a letter to The citizen about it and I guess PTC isn't as conservative as I thought), and I know Sturbaum simply votes the same way as Haddix every time, which is why the Bobsey Twins were on the losing side of 3-2 before and still are.

Imker sticking it to Haddix doesn't bother me but he's got some work to do to get the ladies on his side and on-board with something besides raising taxes and multi-year increases that seem to take the personnel side of the equation of the table since future tax increases are "programmed" in, but won't be nearly enough, IMO. In other words, I don't believe the 1.25 millage hike this year and the future increases is the "lower cost" and neither side was right. The excuse that Imker gave of the state setting the budget wasn't accurate either at that point.

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