The Canton City Council has some very serious decisions to make regarding our water and sewer system. Recently, the City engaged Keck & Wood Engineers and Raftellis Consultants to provide the City with a rate study. We were trying to determine, with the professional assistance of these firms, what our water and sewer rates should be in order to meet the obligations of the system; i.e. payment of debt service, proper maintenance and operation, administrative costs and future expansion needs.
What we learned was really not surprising. The City historically has not maintained its' systems well and rate increases throughout the years have been inadequate to meet the system demands. The consultants have recommended an immediate 20% increase in rates with a total of 65% separate rate increases over the next 48 months. With percentage increases compounding, the overall rate increase is more like 100%. The rate increases recommended include $5.4 M for the sewer system upgrades and a new $27M water plant.
It is my opinion that before we increase water rates, we should examine any and all alternatives. The bottom line is that we must keep our rates generally comparable to other cities and jurisdictions in our general area. Our citizens should not be paying unreasonably high water and sewer rates. What can we do? First what are some of the alternatives?
It seems to me that the most logical first alternative to investigate is the consolidation or merger with the Cherokee Water and Sewerage Authority. The City of Canton has approximately 7,000 water customers while the CCWSA has around 70,000. If the financial numbers permit, it would make sense for the CCWSA to provide water and sewer services to residents of Canton. Duplication of services with numerous city systems doesn't make economic sense and cannot be very efficient.
Preliminary discussions with the CCWSA have produced a proposal from the CCWSA. This proposal is now being considered by the City and a committee of three council members, Rush, Beresford and Goodwin.
The proposal from the Authority is one of a tripartide arrangement among the City, the CCWSA and the Cobb Marietta Water Authority (CCMWA). Under this proposal, CCMWA would purchase a portion (5.25MGD) of the Citys' interest (11.25MGD) in the Reservoir, paying all debt service and accumulated reservoir costs to the City. The Cherokee County Water & Sewerage Authority (CCWSA) would receive 6.0MGD of theCity's interest in the Reservoir and hold for the City's future needs. The CCWSA would take over the City of Canton's Water Plant and Sewer Plant and the City would retain the distribution and collection system. The City would continue to bill city customers and be responsible for maintenance of distribution and collection lines and pump stations. This alternative would free up $600K per year in sales tax dollars now paying debt service.
The next alternative the city should consider is to reduce the projected needs of the City. While the consultants incuded a new $27M water plant, the City currently is only utilizing approximately 60% of the 5.3MGD permitted capacity of our existing plant. Our current population could almost double before additional capacity is required. Could this improvement and it's accompanying rate increase be pushed a little further into the future and avoid a portion of the needed rate increases? I would hope that all unnecessary expenditures would be eliminated along with this and any alternative considered.
Another alternative to be considered is the selling of the Reservoir itself. The Reservoir does not produce any revenue for the City at this time and is unlikely to produce revenue anytime in the near future. Selling the Reservoir alone is not my preferred direction. It will be a valuable asset for our city, a $30M investment, and will benefit future generations of Cantonians. The first alternative above preserves a major portion (6MGD) of this investment for our City.
Lots of important decisions for our Council. Your input is needed and solicited. If you have thoughts on this issue, please contact your council members. We are working hard not to come up with the best of the alternatives, which may be a variation of the above or something entirely different. Our residents must have good water and sewer service at a reasonable cost. There is no alternative to that!