DeKalb CEO to ask for water, sewer rate increase

Dekalb County CEO Michael Thurmond speaks to the media during a press conference in 2023. Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Credit: Jason Getz /

Dekalb County CEO Michael Thurmond speaks to the media during a press conference in 2023. Jason Getz /

DeKalb County Chief Executive Officer Michael Thurmond told commissioners on Tuesday he will seek a water and sewer rate increase in coming weeks, the first in two years.

Thurmond said his administration is still working out the details, including how much extra he’ll ask residents to pay. Thurmond said the crisis in Atlanta, where parts of the city are on their fifth day without water, shows the need for continued improvements to aging infrastructure in both localities.

The CEO said his ask was an extension of investments his administration has prioritized since taking office in 2017, including $1.25 billion in capital spending on the water and sewer system. The county is under a federal consent decree that mandates improvements to the county’s sewer system.

“This is not a reaction to anything,” Thurmond said. “This is us continuing to be proactive because we know that the lifeblood of DeKalb County is our water and sewer system.”

A full plan will be presented to commissioners in two weeks, he said.

Work at the Scott Candler water treatment plant is expected to be a priority. Scott Candler is the county’s only water treatment plant, making any issues there potentially “catastrophic.”

The plant was constructed in 1942 and major repairs were completed in 2017. The recent work created redundancies that prevent against service disruptions but the plant has only one clearwell, the tank that stores drinking water before it is pushed out to customers.

Upgrades at Scott Candler are expected to cost $250 million, according to a report commissioners received last month.

Replacing the county’s aging pipes would cost an an additional estimated $4.4 billion total, and at $75 million per year completion wouldn’t happen until 2050. County officials have floated the idea of increasing the annual spending to $150 million, saying it would help tackle the issue faster and reduce costs down the line.

Talking to media after his presentation to commissioners, Thurmond declined to be more specific about what his administration would request.

“You have to weight the need versus the ability of ratepayers to pay,” he said. “You can’t create a system that’s so onerous that our citizens can’t support the increase.”

The county increased stormwater fees last year. Water and sewer fees were last raised in 2022, the first increase during Thurmond’s tenure. The 6% increase translated to an extra $6 to $8 on the average bill.

Thurmond said he watched the situation in Atlanta unfold over the weekend with a lot of sympathy and spoke with Mayor Andre Dickens to offer advice and DeKalb’s assistance. DeKalb faced a similar situation in 2018, when a massive water break in Doraville left the entire county under a boil water advisory for days.

He and Dickens both inherited aging systems, Thurmond said.

“One of the things I shared with him is, mayor, if the pipes are 80 years old, you didn’t put them in the ground, right?” he said. “But when you were elected to executive positions, you’re responsible for either correcting it or improving it.”