Aberdeen Considers Water Rate Hike
BY HANNAH SHARPE
The Aberdeen Board of Commissioners began reviewing the proposed 2010-2011 budget Thursday.
Commissioners received copies of the draft budget and were given an introductory overview by Town Manager Bill Zell. The meeting was the first of two that the board has scheduled to review the budget before its approval in June.
Like most municipalities, Aberdeen's budget is a little tighter this year due to the economic recession. The budget calls for raising water rates.
In preparing the budget, town departments were asked to cut operating expenses by 4 percent this year to accommodate leaner numbers.
Despite cutbacks, Zell told the board that the budget addresses both standard town operations and new projects for the year ahead.
"I feel like we've got a good, solid budget, both in the water and sewer fund and the general fund," Zell said.
Zell highlighted new items referencing upcoming projects for the commissioners to evaluate: a $1.65 million expansion to the fire station, a $200,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that could supplement the cost of the fire department expansion, $30,000 for the Parks and Recreation Department to update its master plan and a $255,000 Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant that would allow the town to develop Ray's Mill Pond as a recreational and educational site within the town's greenway plan.
Under the recommendation of Commissioner Walter Wright, the budget also notes explicitly the increases in rates for contributions to the state pension fund from both the town and its employees.
The state pension fund lost $16 billion in the global financial crisis, and state officials have since increased the rate of contribution for state employees to compensate for the loss.
The increased rates, which effect local and state entities, added $41,689 to Aberdeen's budget.
As the board looked over the budget, Public Works Director Rickie Monroe presented recommendations to the board in regard to rates for water and sewer services over the next year. He recommended that the board increase the water rate by 5 percent. The current rate is $2.50 for every 5,000 gallons used.
"Increasing it this year would help out with the Addor plant," Monroe said.
Aberdeen purchases water under contract from Southern Pines to supplement its wells.
Aberdeen's sewer system feeds into the Moore County wastewater treatment plant in Addor.
Monroe told the board that the town currently pays 11 cents per gallon on the plant's current rate of $2.61 per gallon to cover the difference.
Zell added that the town will have to increase rates if it expects to receive state clean water grants in the future.
Zell used his current water bill as an example to demonstrate the potential change to the commissioners. His current charge of $40.90 would increase $1.50 to $42.40 under the proposed increase. Zell said that if he had sewer service also, his bill would go up $2.34.
"It's not a drastic increase, but it's significant enough to move us in a right direction," Zell said.
The town increased its water rates last year to accommodate rate increases from Moore County. The county raised its rates in order to update the plant and initiate a plan of expansion.
When the plant reaches at least 80 percent of its usage capacity, the county is required to begin the process of expansion.
Before last year's increase, the town had been absorbing the costs of county water rate increases, instead of increasing rates for residents.
Monroe also suggested increasing tap fees for town sewer service by 25 percent, citing that the material costs for installing taps have increased significantly. The town has not raised the fee since a $25 increase in 2005.
Monroe added that the town should consider a policy requiring sewer hook-ups over time for residences on sewer lines.
Zell asked the board to look over the budget over the next week and prepare to ask questions and discuss items for its meeting May 13.
Contact Hannah Sharpe by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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