2013-09-12 / News

Council passes increased sewer rates

By Margo Sullivan

Sitting as water and sewer commissioners, the Town Council on Sept. 3 passed new utility budgets for the current fiscal year.

The council’s action continued a discussion that started at its Aug. 5 meeting when David Bebyn, of B & E Consulting, presented his recommendations for water rate increases. The extra revenue will go to finance infrastructure improvements and to meet new state regulations. (His study did not address sewer rates.)

Specifically, the water budget has increased by 8 percent to cover debt service, said Council President Kristine Trocki, who summarized the budget changes before the councilors delved into details. The sewer budget went up by 5.5 percent, she said, and the reason was to cover increases in the operating budget and to include about $20,000 for capital improvements.

As a result of the vote, municipal water and sewer users will see an increase in their bills. Previously, the consultant estimated the quarterly water bill will increase on average by a little less than $7.

“We need these increases to continue operating with state and federal guidelines,” Trocki said.

Town Engineer Mike Gray confirmed the increases are required.

According to a memo prepared by Interim Town Administrator Tina Collins, the sewer budget for fiscal year 2013-14 is $603,727, up from $566,623 budgeted in 2012-13.

The water budget for fiscal year 2013-14 is $1,179,219, up from $1,029,304 budgeted in 2012-13.

Last year’s spending for both water and sewer stayed in the black, according to the data Collins provided in a memo to the councilors. Year-to-date water department expenses for the fiscal year that ended June 30 totaled $1,017,001, about $12,000 under budget, although some late items may still be posted. Sewer spending stands at $559,953, which is roughly $6,500 under budget.

The water department went into the red expenses concerning the pump station and treatment plant, running up an additional $6,886 for equipment maintenance, $4,702 for telephone and $2,786 for state testing. The reservoirs and rights-of-way expenses went into the red $890 for maintenance, and administrative costs ran about $4,000 higher than anticipated. The cost for the South Pond pretreatment building was about $700 over budget.

However, salaries and benefits stayed about $10,000 under budget. Also helping to offset some cost overruns, expenses for wells showed savings of almost $7,000, with only $3,714 spent of the $10,500 budgeted for electricity and nothing spent on monitoring. Year-to-date costs associated with vehicles, meters and hydrants also so far have come in under budget.

Moreover, the water department’s revenues increased by almost $20,000.

The sewer department also showed increased revenues of about $3,000, due to new service connection fees and sewer use sales. Jamestown spent about $20,000 less than budgeted for Social Security, health and retire- ment benefits, and salaries, according to the year-to-date figures. Otherwise, the department stayed within its budget except in the line items for the wastewater treatment facility, which was $12,000 in the red, and sanitary sewers, laterals and mains, which was $8,449 over budget. (The town spent $13,449 but had set aside only $5,000 for this purpose.)

Collins, who is also the finance director, said previously that Jamestown will conduct a study of sewer rates next year. Meanwhile, the water rate increases have been discussed for the past eight years, as town officials have sought to avoid spikes and present the customers with gradual changes.

“If we have any leeway, we try not to raise the rates,” she said.

Last year, for example, there was no water rate increase. The year before, the rates increased by about 8 percent. Jamestown’s rate increases reflect “what’s happening in the rest if the state.” For one example, she cited Newport, where residents have been expected to absorb several years worth of increases, including a 35.31 percent increase in a single year.

“What’s driving it?” Councilor Eugene Mihaly asked.

“Infrastructure,” Collins replied.

Some expenses also cannot be controlled, Gray added. One example is the price of chemicals. Also, labor costs are fixed costs, which cannot be reduced, he explained.

Gray also said the budget allows some spending on projects. “There’s a long list of projects,” he said. According to Gray, he likes to have money in the budget to buy materials.

However, Jamestown is trying to keep the rate increases below the double-digit mark, Collins said.

Ultimately, for the big jobs, such as work on the dams, the plan is to go out to bond. The cost would be too high to attempt to “pay as you go,” Gray said.

Collins said the plan is to schedule the water bond for fiscal year 2015. There is a state bond program specifically for water department projects, she explained, and Jamestown will apply to be put on the list.

At some point, the plan is also to consider a bond to pay for major sewer department projects, she said.

Councilor Mary Meagher asked if more residents want to tie into the sewer system. Gray said the system is close to build out currently, due to the capacity of the wastewater treatment plant. There are reserves, he said, to accommodate additional service, such as new users in accessory apartments. Also, there is room to service new users if any vacant lots in the village are developed.

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