Gardner residents will still see an increase in their water and wastewater rates, but it may not be as high as originally proposed.
City officials originally suggested increasing water and sewer rates by 12 percent next year, but Laura Gourley, city finance director, said an accounting shift and tiered water usage rates will lessen the anticipated increase in 2014.
She will propose a final budget for next year with an 8 percent water rate increase and an 11 percent wastewater rate increase. The rates will cost the average family of approximately 2.5 people an additional $8.59 per month, or $103 annually.
“It’s about the same rate increase as last year,” Gourley said. “And it’s a $2 reduction per month in what I talked about before.”
Earlier this month, Gourley told city council members that fees needed to be increased to pay for a variety of critical maintenance projects. The proposed projects, which include painting the Hillsdale clear well, updating piping at the Killcreek Water Tower, and repairing the north lift storage tank, are estimated to cost more than $234,000. The budget also funds three additional utility employees – a water plant operator, a wastewater plant operator and a line maintenance person to be shared by the water and wastewater departments.
Council member Kristina Harrison wanted to ensure that the lower proposed utility rate increases would not hamper the city’s ability to fund those projects.
“Those projects, in my mind, don’t happen every year,” Harrison said during a July 15 council meeting. “To me, there’s also day-to-day maintenance. Have we increased the amount of ongoing maintenance that we’re doing in water and wastewater?”
Jim Melvin, Gardner water/wastewater manager, said next year’s utility budget will maintain existing levels of daily maintenance.
“It’s is at status quo,” he explained. “We’re doing enough flushing to keep our chlorine levels where we need to be.”
The proposed utility budget will change where a portion of penalty fees is directed. Currently, when a customer’s water, sewer or electricity are shut-off, penalty fees for reconnection are directed to Gardner Energy, Gardner’s electric utility which is a separate entity for budgeting purposes.
If the proposed utility budget is approved, those fees, which are largely collected to assist in funding administrative costs for shut-offs and reconnections, will be divvied between the three utilities – electric, water and wastewater.
Gourley estimates the change will add approximately $158,000 each to the water and wastewater budgets each year. It will be offset by an approximate $316,000 decrease to Gardner Energy.
City council members must send an approved 2014 budget to the state by Aug. 25. They conducted a public hearing on the budget on July 15.