For those in the audience listening, you would have thought the sky was falling during  a Gardner City Council budget work session July 1.
Laura Gourley, city finance director, told council members a 12 percent utility rate increase is needed due to lack of growth. Growth, she explained, maintains low rates.
Maybe Gardner council members should direct city staff in the same way Edgerton council members did theirs – make cuts.
Faced with a lower city valuation, Beth Linn, Edgerton’s city administrator, told council members June 27 that the city would have to raise its mill levy to maintain current revenues.
To Edgerton elected officials’ credit, they said no.
We hope Gardner’s council is brave enough to say the same.
We just don’t buy into a huge utility rate increase.
Despite record city reserves, nearly 30 percent in tax increases over the past four years and the approval of a $9 million sewer project that may save the citizens buckets of money in the long run (according to city staff), the city is running desperately short of being able to meet its most basic roles – like providing water and sewer services to residents.
We submit that if rates have been based on growth rather than on what it costs to provide and maintain services with healthy reserves, we’ve been doing it wrong.
Utility rates should be user funded – meaning individuals should pay their own way when it comes to water and sewer. Rates should be determined by what it costs to provide the service and maintain existing systems. Growth should not factor into the equation of existing equipment and staffing.
Meanwhile, growth should pay its own way. If we have been counting on growth to maintain our existing systems, and deferring repairs as they were needed, we’ve been doing it wrong, and obviously have been for a very long time.
Show us three instances in the last 50 years in which growth has resulted in lowered tax rates or utility rates. We’re betting no three instances exist.
Gardner council members suggested that general fund reserves should be used to buy down a proposed 12 percent rate increase. While we appreciate the gesture, that’s not the way to do it either. To do so essentially causes lower income residents to subsidize large utility users.
If, in fact, a 12 percent increase is necessary, (and we’re not convinced it is) we encourage the council to slash the mill levy rate to make up for the utility rate increase rather than using reserves to fund our utilities.
We also believe that Gardner officials are remiss if they don’t properly fund city infrastructure. If maintenance was deferred for the decade in which the city’s population doubled, then what’s to keep additional revenue for maintenance from being deferred again?
We hope Gardner’s council will do what Edgerton’s council did.
Just say no.