Faced with a daunting list of projects totaling millions of dollars, the Georgetown City Council gave its approval for the first Georgetown Municipal Water and Sewer rate increase in 12 years. The council also approved the GMWSS budget for the upcoming year.

The rates, which will go into effect Aug. 1, were approved Monday on a 7-1 vote, with Councilwoman Karen Tingle-Sames voting against the rates.

The rates have undergone extensive discussion by the GMWSS board and the council before final approval.

New rates raise the current fixed water rate for a minimum of 2,000 gallons from $8.54 to $10.94 for Fiscal Year 2020 increasing each year to $14.38 in Fiscal Year 2024. The variable water rate (over 2,000 gallons a month) rises from $4.80 to $6 in 2020 and ends the five-year plan at $7.72. Sewer rates likewise increase from $7.82 at the minimum 2,000 gallons currently to $10.06 and ends 2024 at $13.13. The variable sewer rate rises from $5.58 to $6.70 in 2020 and increases to $8.23 in 2024. Rates for commercial and industrial customers are also increasing.

The average residential water and sewer bill will go from $33.59 to $42.14 in 2020, $45.40 in 2021, $48.34 in 2022, $51.19 in 2023 and $54.13 in 2024. The average number of gallons residents use is 3,900 gallons.

By percentage, water rates go up 28.16 percent next year with gradual increases for the next four years. The proposal includes additional increases in sewer rates of 28.6 percent.

GMWSS General Manager Chase Azevedo said during presentations for the new rates that there is a litany of projects that require the utility’s attention to repair, improve and maintain. And after not raising rates for 12 years, some of those projects have been put off to the point they cannot be put off any longer.

Council members favoring the increase credited Azevedo and his team for making a business case for the rates and why they are necessary.

“It’s a big issue and one of the biggest percentage hikes we have probably ever faced. I know you, your staff and your board have put in an enormous amount of time and energy in getting a critical needs assessment,” Coucilman David Lusby said. “I think back to some of the other increases we have had to approve for the water company and how difficult they were. And they were small by comparison. We haven’t raised rates in 12 years, and that is a long time, and probably too long. Right now we are faced with a Wastewater Treatment Plant No. 1 that services most of downtown that needs $40 million worth of improvements. The way I see it, we don’t really have a choice and this is the thing to do.”

He also thanked Mayor Tom Prather from his time on Scott County Fiscal Court when it contributed to the cost of running sewer lines, running lines to Sadieville, taking on the debt of Stamping Ground’s water service, and the county, along with the city, contributed when the water company needed lines for an alternative water source from Frankfort.

“All that helped the water company not have to take out bonds at that time,” Lusby said. “I’m saying some of that because there was mention of county residents paying a different rate, but I think they have helped contribute over the years, and I wouldn’t be for it.”

One thing that gives Prather confidence is the business case GMWSS built, he said.

“Knowing how hard they worked, and knowing for the first time, we are putting in place an actual five-year plan that we should not find ourselves in a situation of needing this many improvements,” he said.

“I think the council, and the water board, waited too long,” Councilman Marvin Thompson said. “Twelve years is a long time when you think that in that time, chemicals have gone up, more manpower needs has been needed and other things have increased.”

Added Councilwoman Polly Singer-Eardley, “It’s hard to approve this big a raise, but it has been so long since they have been raised. They say in business you should raise your rates incrementally, and that’s what is so hard when you don’t do that. You all have worked so hard to give us three options.”

Resident Stephen Price interjected the council and city did have a choice. “Roof water off of every structure in Georgetown.”

All but Tingle-Sames voted in favor of the rate increase. “But not because I want to drink roof water,” she said.

The council also heard a first reading on an ordinance governing unmanned aircraft systems, or drones, to provide for prohibited areas of launching and landing, safe operation, and prohibitions on operating unmanned aircraft systems for the purpose of voyeurism or harassment.

“People, particularly parents, have been concerned about drones flying over private swimming pools and privacy. This just gives us some protections for people’s privacy,” Prather said. “There’s not much we can control, but we made it as strong as we are allowed to.”

There was also a first reading on an amendment to the smoking ordinance revising definition of a retail tobacco store. This ordinance is in response to plans for a cigar and bourbon bar downtown in the former Lock and Key.

“We wanted to protect the integrity of our current smoking ordinance because people like it and we didn’t want to create loopholes,” Prather said. “We did it with half of the sales have to be tobacco, and wanted to check with the business owner (of the proposed cigar bar) if he can meet that and he believes he can. We also wanted to set it high enough that no other business could sneak in, such as a beer joint wanting to allow smoking but 50 percent of their business is not going to come from tobacco products.”

“Smoking in tobacco shops is already anticipated and expected in the current ordinance,” Prather said. “Citizens have grown accustomed to the smoking ordinance and like it. As we considered a change in the ordinance to allow something like a cigar bar, we just have to be careful not to open loopholes.”

In other business:

— Approved a municipal order on an easement on Finley Drive covering about 560 square feet. It is a road easement that the owner has agreed to maintain. All approved the order, although Lusby recused himself as he and the owner have some business dealings together, but not on this property.

— Held a first reading on a zone change ordinance and annexation ordinance on the Drake property located at or around the intersection of McClelland Circle and 62 Bypass from A-1 to C-1 and B-5 and B-2 to C-1.

Steve McClain can be reached at smcclain@news-graphic.com.

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