Predictions of inclement weather led city councilors during their budget work session on Monday to cancel the next day’s council meeting and move up that meeting’s consent agenda to the work session.
With the approval of city attorney Thomas McCormick, councilors also moved Tuesday’s consent agenda to Monday’s session. Two items were pulled from the consent agenda to allow councilors Maiorano and Baldwin to be excused, and all consent agenda items were approved unanimously.
The remaining items were scheduled for the March 3rd city council meeting.
The budget work session focused on the public utilities department. Topics included an overview of the department, a look into a rate increase that would take effect in the fiscal year 2015, and a fee increase for the watershed protection program.
John Carman, the public utilities director, told councilors about the history of the public utilities department and its current attributes.
“It’s a big operation,” Carman said. “There’s a lot of money coming in and out of our balance sheet.”
He said when he arrived, the economy was still coming out of a downturn and the area was seeing less than average rainfall. The department was then pushing for a rate model with a steep increase, up to 15 percent. Since then, the amount of water an average consumer has used has been declining.
“We’ve seen a lot of rate increases,” Carman said, “but the net yield has stayed about level.”
He talked about a low income bill assistance program that was in the current strategic plan but still needed to be research further to see how it would work. He also talked about a communication plan to talk to citizens’ advisory councils and developers.
“This is due to Councilor Baldwin and Mayor McFarlane saying ‘You need to communicate,’” Carman said. “So we did.”
Under the section for an overview of the financial model, public utilities staff proposed a rate increase for fiscal year 2015. The six percent rate increase for water and sewer would affect customers based on the amount of water and sewer they used. The monthly bill for an average customer would jump over three dollars, from $49.03 to $52.46.
Councilors had questions about the administrative rates, the low income bill assistance program, and the technical details between the water lines and the cost per customer. Staff recommended to council that the rate increase be folded into the larger budget so that notifications could be sent out to those affected by the rate increase.
A motion was made and approved with a sole dissenting vote from councilor Odom.
Kenny Waldroup then made a brief presentation about the watershed protection fee, which had in part allowed for 31 miles of stream and 2,500 acres of land to be protected. The increase in the fee, from 37 cents to 56 cents, would generate an additional $600,000 for watershed protection.
Councilors Baldwin and Maiorano said they were uncomfortable voting on the item as they needed more time to research the topic thoroughly. Council then agreed to make this a special item on the March 3rd agenda but said that tepid notifications to those affected could go forth.