Water and wastewater rates are set to increase. Gardner finance director Laura Gourley presented portions of a proposed 2015 budget to the city council on July 7.
The proposal included an 8 percent water rate increase and a 4 percent wastewater rate hike.
The increases amount to about 20 cents per day or $6 a month for the average Gardner consumer, she told the council. Electric rates would remain flat.
The city has increased utility rates for the last several years attempting to catch up from years of flat rates. However, Gourley said the city may be in a position next year to stop increasing rates.
In addition to presenting proposed utility rates, Gourley presented a series of projects that council members could decide to the 2015 budget.
She proposed spending $100,000 for consulting service that would assist in the council’s stated goal of encour
aging economic development. One consultant would assist the city with marketing and rebranding. Another would do an adaptive parks study.
Another proposal would update the land development codes for $80,000.
Gourley also proposed projects that may improve the quality of life in Gardner. She advocated spending $20,000 to upgrade and make ADA compliant downtown sidewalks and another $35,000 to create a youth leadership council. Gourley also proposed spending $260,000 to upgrade downtown lighting.
City administrator Cheryl Harrison-Lee said the project would be part of an overall streetscape project. Council member Heath Freeman said it seems premature to fix the lighting when council members have yet to determine exactly how they want to enhance downtown.
“If I had a car that needed a paint job but also needed a new engine, do we really want to waste money on a paint job?” He asked.
Other projects council members may consider adding to the 2015 budget include $544,600 to rehab the Gardner Aquatic Center. Parks and recreation director Jeff Stewart said most of the funding would be used to update the lap pool at the center. Another project would spend $636,000 to rehabilitate Westside Ball Park.
Gourley also proposed funding the purchase of $30,000 truck scales; funding for economic development groups of up to $35,000; and funding of $35,000 to create a strategy for incenting certain kinds of businesses to locate to Gardner; buying two, new police SUVs for $71,000; and rehabbing the Gardner Senior Center for $50,000.
Council members likely won’t be able to fund all of the proposed projects in the 2015 budget, and Gourley said right now, the complete budget she brings to council in a few weeks will probably only include the pool and park upgrades.
Gourley also sought direction on setting money aside for a merit-raise pool of funds. Council agreed to set aside $80,000 for merit raises. They will use a tiered system to reward high-performing employees next year. Staff will also receive a 3 percent cost-of-living- raise.
Council members must adopt a 2015 budget and send it to the state no later than Aug. 25. After that time, council can make funding changes, but they will not be able to change the tax rate. Gourley said she plans to propose a budget with a flat mill levy, or tax rate.
However, council member Larry Fotovich noted that since property values have increased in the last year, some property owners will pay more than they paid last year.
Gourley said the average homeowner will pay an additional $6 in property taxes due to increased property valuations.
The city council will host a public hearing on the 2015 budget during the July 21 council meeting. The meeting will be at 7 p.m. at city hall.