- Last Updated on Wednesday, 17 December 2008 16:53
- Published on Wednesday, 17 December 2008 16:53
- Hits: 454
On November 26, 2008 Draft 1 of the Recommendation on Water/Sewer Rates for the Town of Colonial Beach was released to the Colonial Beach Town Council for their perusal and suggestions. The draft proposal is the creation of a study group comprised of Council Members Karen Payne and Sparky Ridgely, Acting Town Manager Val Foulds, Chief Financial Officer Joan Grant and Director of Public Works Rob Murphy.
The group was formed at the request of Mayor Rummage to examine the many issues surrounding a potential increase in residential water/sewer fees and to hopefully find a way to work out a gentler and more community friendly increase than the original proposal of 41%. The group was also charged with looking into and resolving the issues surrounding non-working, absent or unread meters at local businesses as the town had a substantial amount in delinquent business accounts as well as discrepancies in who was being read and who was not.
The draft recommendation looks at five areas that impact fees: Wastewater Treatment Plant Improvements, Water System/Infiltration/Water Line Replacement, Capital Improvement Fund, Increased Costs and Reduced Revenue on Connection Fees. According to the draft document, the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is funding the improvements to the Wastewater Treatment Plant “through a $6,086,322.00 grant and a $2,671,606.00 loan with a 20 year amortization at 0% interest.” The town will not have to make a payment until January of 2010 which should equal $66,790.00. There will be two installments due each year for a combined total of $133,580.00.
With regard to the Water System/Infiltration/Water Line Replacements or Water System and I&I Improvements, the document recounts how Long & Associates Environmental Services Inc. did a 2008 study in the town that estimated 133 million gallons of rain and/or groundwater is being processed by the town each year. “This is costing the Town approximately $438,000.00 per year in unnecessary influent being processed”. The report calls for the replacement of the Town's water infrastructure to the tune of an estimated cost of $4,229,190.00. The annual payments for this aspect of the Town's water/sewer needs is indicated to be $100,000.
With regard to Capital Improvements, the document states “the Town must develop a Capital Improvement funding plan which carries over each year.” The purpose of this fund will be to cover the cost of rehabilitation and infrastructure needs. These funds will be kept separate from the General Fund accounts and are estimated to be $100,000 annually.
Increased Costs is the portion of the draft plan that addresses that fact that water/sewer rates “have not been increased in 14 years and have not kept pace with inflation and increased regulatory costs. Inflation has risen 37.2% since the last user fee rate increase, and 9.17% since the last connection fee increase”, the document states. To actually keep pace with inflation, the draft proposal states that residential user fees should be raised to $822 from the current $600 per year, but before everyone goes nuts – read on.
Reduced Revenue on Connection Fees touches upon the fact that with the “poor economy and reduction in new construction” that the projected amount expected from connection fees has fallen short of the mark. The current budget estimated 80 connections at $6,000 per connection for a total projected revenue of $480,000.00, but in actuality the real number of connections is more along the lines of 60, a difference of 20 connections, which provides revenue equal to $360,000 creating a deficit of $120,000 in expected revenue. Taking all of those facets of water/sewer into consideration adds up to a “minimum estimated revenue increase” of $597,580.00 annually.
The recommendation that is put forth in the proposal after examining all of the above information, which is based on 2400 residential connections, does not place the whole burden for this $597,580 on the shoulders of the tax payers. In fact, it does not even call for a rate increase that equates to the inflation that has taken place ($822 from the current $600). Rather, the suggestion is for the Town to implement a 20% increase which takes the new yearly total for water/sewer for residential accounts from $600 to $720. In more precise terms that breaks down to the annual residential water bill increasing from $141 to $169; sewer bills go up from $459 to $550 per year. This change, is expected to bring about an increase in revenue of $288,000.00.
Another part of the proposal deals with a suggested increase in connection fees. Currently the Town charges $2,000 for a water connection. It is suggested in the proposal that the Town change the current fees to $3,200 through June 30, 3009 and then initiate another increase to $4,500. With respect to sewer connections, the current fee is $4,000. Again, the proposal suggests an increase now to $6,400 to remain in effect through June 30, 2009 followed by another increase as of July 1, 2009 to $7,500. These increases would, in effect, double the current total combined water/sewer connection fees of $6,000 and take them to $12,000. It is expected that this change would provide additional revenue equal to $360,000 for the fiscal year 09-10. Council Member Karen Payne says that this $12,000 fee is “in-line and on the low side of what other localities are charging.”
Now how about those commercial users? Well, they have not been forgotten; they too are included in the proposal and a 20% rate increase is suggested for them as well; all 92 accounts. This increase would affect all commercial users whether they are billed at a standard rate because of low usage or receive a bill with a per gallon charge. It is expected that a 20% increase for the commercial accounts would provide added revenue in the amount of $11,040.00.
As for the delinquent commercial accounts, missing, broken or unread meter problems, Payne says, “Public works has replaced all the missing and not working business meters.” Payne also assured the community that, “All meters for businesses are being read now” and that due to “better coordination between public works and the treasurer's office” meter readings would no longer fall through the cracks.
The Town's Chief Financial Officer Joan Grant concurs with Payne that “to the best of her knowledge all the meters are installed”. Grant says that there is a new revised up-to-date list; “a complete list of all businesses”. “The expectation”, she continued, “is to get a meter reading and if we don't get that to ask where it is and send someone to go get it”. Grant did want to point out that some businesses do get charged a flat rate because of low usage. “The meter”, she said, “only kicks in when they go over the allotted amount”. Grant confirmed that even if a business ends up being charged a flat rate for a few consecutive months, that the meter is still read; the assumption is not made that since they haven't gone over they never will. Director of Public Works, Rob Murphy, confirms that the meters have been replaced, but cautioned that it is an ongoing project. “As a result of this last reading” said Murphy, “one, two, three work orders have been generated to double check the meters.” Murphy also confirmed that the Town has picked up the cost of replacing, repairing and installing any missing meters. Public works expects to work on the 3/4” meters regularly and includes keeping a surplus of them on hand in their budget, but this year, two 2” meters had to be replaced, which was not expected, and each of those cost $800. Murphy said, “It hurt a little, but we'll be alright”.
The Public Hearing on the new Water/Sewer Rates is scheduled for January 8, 2009 at 7:00 p.m.
- Last Updated on Wednesday, 03 December 2008 22:50
- Published on Wednesday, 03 December 2008 22:50
- Hits: 398
Here it is December already; the mid-way marking point in the year for Colonial Beach's new Mayor and Town Council. The Journal took a few moments to catch up with the community's representatives and get their answers to the same three questions: 1) Do you feel that the Council is where it should be at this time; that it has met its goals; 2) What do you feel the three hot topics at the first work session for the New Year will be; and 3) What suggestions, if any, do you have towards filling the $100,000 hole in the budget?
Mayor Fred Rummage allowed that they, the Council, "haven't accomplished everything they wanted to do, but likes the progress that the group has made."
Rummage continued, "I appreciate the cooperation that has developed among Council. We don't have any Donnybrook here," he added. When asked about the 2009 work session that has already been scheduled for December 30, the Mayor said he plans on talking with Council about that date. He has concerns that people will be away for the holidays and therefore won't be able to attend the meeting. However, he expects that "water rates and connection fees will be two of the hottest topics at the regular January meeting".
For spot number three, the Mayor expects the budget to fill that niche. "In light of the downturn of the economy," said the Mayor, "we need to find out how that has impacted our revenue." As for the hole in the budget, Rummage says, "I am hoping that the cigarette tax will assist considerably. I will also be looking into expanding the bill to include other types of tobacco - non smoke tobacco as well as cigars".
Vice Mayor Trish King said she hadn't yet taken a moment to assess where the Council stood and review the past six months. "Mayor Rummage coming on board and changing the assignments has taken some time to become accustomed to", she said. King also referenced the departure of the Town's manager, Tim Kriewczel, and pointed out that they "have not gotten a firm answer from the Town's Chief Financial Officer, Joan Grant, as to what the town's income is.
"I would have like to do more with economic development" and commented that "Land Studio has been the best thing happening. The survey they did has given us the new light that people are interested in developing Colonial Avenue as opposed to the Boardwalk. It gives us a whole new vision for Colonial Avenue".
For the first work session of 2009, King says, "Budget and economy will be number one. Everything else will be dependent on that." The Vice Mayor expects the waste water treatment plant to hold the number two spot. "Unfortunately", says King, "we are going to have to raise the rates, but the amount has not yet been ."
Hot topic number three? King says, "Decisions about funding for the school." When asked if she had a solution for the $100,000 budgetary hole, King replied, "Not yet."
Council Member David Coombes reflected that no financial reports concerning the town's income for the year had yet been given and also pronounced this Council "a better working Council than I've seen in a while". Coombes acknowledged there were "some major hurdles before us and a lot of problems that aren't solved overnight; for instance, this whole police station thing."
The Council Member touched briefly on the boat safety decal calling it, "the right decision for now. Is it an accomplishment or not; I don't know," concluded Coombes. "Financing is my biggest concern. The tax on cigarettes will provide some revenue, but not enough. Are we going to be ok in our second six months?" he posed rhetorically. "We won't know until we get an analysis".
The three hot topics Coombes expects to see in January are one: "a sound financial track. If it means tightening our belts, then so be it".
Coombes says that item, finances, is "the big one" and after that at the number two spot should come the question, "What are we going to do with our police department"?
From that point on says the Coombes, "It's a toss up. I don't want to prioritize".
Coombes says there are only so many ways to fill the $100,000 hole in the budget and those are to "raise revenue, cut expenses or do both." He expects to see some decision making done in both these categories over the next six months.
Council Member Sparky Ridgely felt the Council had "met the goals".
Ridgley said that some things "are a work in progress. Do I wish we could have gotten more done," mused Ridgely, "sure I do. Am I pretty much satisfied? I am."
The Council Member expressed that he felt council had been wise in moving cautiously. The hot topics that Ridgely expects to see in spots one, two and three are "economic development, the police station issue and developing more efficient use of resources. "We have got to operate more efficiently," urged the Council Representative.
How does Ridgely foresee the $100,000 budget hole being filled? "Well," he says, "we have already met with department heads and shared words of caution that just because a project shows it being funded in the budget doesn't make it so". He hastens to clarify that he is not talking about cutting necessary services, just putting off projects that "don't have to be done today."
Ridgely also shared that the Town currently has four vacancies in the Public Works Department; "one due to a tragedy." The salaries and benefits for these four positions will be incorporated back into the budget.
Council Member Karen Payne said, "No, I don't think we are where we should be." Payne said she wasn't pointing fingers at anyone and wasn't assigning blame, but said she felt, "This Council has been put in a hole because of previous Councils and the budget.
"I am very well aware of the $100,000 shortfall", said Payne, but does not have any one concrete idea with which to fill the hole. "Cost cutting measures and tightening of belts", is what she forecasts. Payne says the budget will be the hot topic for the new year and is of such importance that it should fill all three of the hot topic spots on the agenda for the new year. "We need to look at the big picture", she said.
Council Representative Steve Kennedy replied, "No" he doesn't feel that Council is where it should be. Kennedy said, "Personally speaking, I felt that the committee system worked better. With this new system, we don't have that sharing of information. I understand what the Mayor is trying to do; he wants everyone to specialize, but I lose something by not being involved with Karen Payne on water and sewer. I used to serve on Economic Development and Administration and Finance and that provided a really good crossover of information amongst the various Council members who served on those two committees." Kennedy said that he feels so strongly about this sharing of information that even though he has been assigned to Roads, he has kept up his involvement with economic development. Kennedy also volunteered that, 'based on the fact that this Council has had some major issues to deal with that we have done well. I think", he continued, "this Council has worked harder and put in longer hours than Councils in the past".
For the new year, Kennedy sees the three hot topics as one: "The budget and how we are going to meet the needs of the school: two, "Economic development - we need to get businesses into this town" and three: "You could toss a handful of bills up in the air there are so many things that need our attention."
As for filling the $100,000 hole, Kennedy says that fellow Council Member Sparky Ridgely "has been working hard on the budget.
"We have got to see what this cigarette tax will do. We need to have a tracking device in place so we can see if our businesses are losing other retail sales as a result. I don't think we should be doing something that will affect our business owners."
Council Member Burkett Lyburn could not be reached for comment.