As currently proposed, new rates would start Aug. 1.
DeKalb has a lengthy history of water and sewer issues, and some advocates would argue there’s still a whole lot of work to be done.
“I think the county owes us an explanation of why we are going to pay more for water when little has improved,” said Star McKenzie, a longtime advocate.
But since Thurmond took office in 2017, DeKalb has dedicated more than a quarter-billion dollars toward the water system, replacing nearly 50 miles of water mains and more than 100,000 water meters. Many of those meters were faulty, helping fuel a years-long saga of erroneous, extraordinarily high water bills for customers.
The county ended a five-year ban on water disconnections for unpaid bills last fall, saying the majority of issues had been addressed and disputes had dropped dramatically.
At the same time, DeKalb has had to address a sewer system that was neglected for decades. More than $600 million has been dedicated to improvements and the county renegotiated a consent decree with state and federal environmental regulators, giving it about seven more years to address areas with repeat sewer spills.
Hundreds of millions more must be spent. And the county has, among other methods, secured big-dollar, low-interest loans from the Environmental Protection Agency to help cover the cost.
Thurmond said the county has done everything it can to reduce expenses and increase revenue. A rate increase this year — and likely others in 2023, 2024, and 2025 — is the next step to make sure it can complete legally mandated repairs, he said.
Commissioner Lorraine Cochran-Johnson, who chairs the public works and infrastructure committee that heard Thursday’s presentation, said she was “comfortable” with the proposal. But she urged department leaders to continue focusing on improving service for ratepayers.
“I just implore you all to continue to solve all problems,” Cochran-Johnson said. “Because you can’t give a rate increase and have issues.”
Ted Terry, another commissioner on the same committee, said he’d prefer a tiered rate increase to ensure equity and avoid overburdening “economically vulnerable populations.”
Asked about that concept, Thurmond said the administration was “always open as to how we can make the system fairer going forward.”
“But we need to move forward right now with what we have,” he said.