Water authority approves leak policy

by Sarah Fay Campbell

The Coweta County Water and Sewerage Authority approved a new leak adjustment policy Wednesday.

The new policy increases the cost customers will pay for leaked water, but not as much as originally proposed.

Under the new policy, customers who have a leak will be charged $3.92 per 1,000 gallons for the leaked water. That's a discount from the regular residential rate, which is $5.19 per 1,000 gallons.

But it's an increase from the old leak policy, which provided a leak adjustment price of $2.86 per gallon.

The original proposal, presented at the August water authority meeting, was to raise the leak adjustment rate to $5.19 for residential customers and $6.10 for commercial customers.

Another part of the original proposal was to limit leak adjustments to three per "lifetime" for an authority customer. The old policy had a limit of one per year.

"We're going to leave that as is and not limit it to three times," said Authority CEO Jay Boren.

Previously, customers who had a large bill because of a leak could pay the bill in six monthly installments without penalties or interest. The new policy will allow customers to spread those payments over 12 months. Customers must provide some proof that a leak was repaired or an explanation of what occurred to get the adjustment.

Payments under the new leak policy will cover the authority's cost to purchase water and about 50 percent of operating costs, said Boren. The previous rate of $2.86 per gallon was the authority's wholesale water rate.

Authority CFO Andrew Caldwell said staff looked at the proposal and reflected on feedback from customers and discussions among staff and authority members to come up with the new proposal.

An example was presented of a customer who typically uses 7,500 gallons but had a leak, with a total use of 40,000 gallons. The 7,500 gallons is calculated at the standard rate, and the leaked usage is 32,500. "That is considered a large leak," Boren said.

Under the old policy, the total bill would be $149. Under the new policy, it will be $183. Without any adjustment for leaks, the bill would be $224.

In fiscal year 2013, the authority issued $166,000 in leak adjustments. Of those, 74 percent were for residential customers.

During previous discussions, staff had mentioned that some customers appeared to be abusing the system, getting leak adjustments each year. "If we have no limits on this, what are we doing to really address that?" asked authority member Eric Smith. "If we have someone who is taking advantage of this, I'm not seeing that we are doing anything to address that issue."

Those who are abusing the system are "a very small percentage, a very small fraction of our customer base," said Caldwell.

There's also the possibility that someone could have two legitimate leaks in one year. In that case, the customer would get the leak adjustment for the larger leak. If the larger leak occurred months after the smaller one, the bills would still be adjusted so that there would be credit for the larger leak.

When it comes to people who may be abusing the system, staff could review the billing history of an account. "If every year, at the first of summer they have a leak and their pool is full, we've talked about reviewing to see if we can see any patterns," Boren said.

"I think we have to focus on the inadvertent leak that happens," said Chairman Neal Shepard. If there is abuse, that is something that can be taken care of on a case-by-case basis. "You just can't make policy to deal with everything," Shepard said.

"This is much more fair than what we originally started with. I think everybody agrees with that," Shepard said.

Shepard thanked staff for the work they put into the new policy. "A lot of authorities don't even have a policy like this," Shepard said. "I think it is important that we do, having a willingness to work with folks who are inadvertently impacted by something like that."



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