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Burton holds up on rate increases
Burton holds up on rate increases
By JOSEPH KOZIOL JR.
Burton Village Council scrapped plans at the 11th hour Monday for 50 percent sewer rate increases to allow time to consider the feasibility of phasing in the increases.
Council voted 4-1 to table an ordinance on third reading that would have provided for an immediate 50 percent hike in sewer rates and 3 percent incremental increases each year. The village's board of public affairs had approved 50 percent rate increases for water rates in the village two weeks ago.
Councilwoman Dianne Lillibridge voiced the dissenting vote, saying the village has avoided making a decision on the matter. Six years ago, she said, she pushed for increasing revenues for the village to handle growing costs.
"Here we are six years later and we're still not making a decision," Mrs. Lillibridge said.
But, the majority of council members were swayed by Councilman Jeff Coleman's argument that phasing in the increase over a number of years would cause less pain for residents.
Mr. Coleman has pushed for a phased-in approach since the legislation was introduced last month, saying the 50 percent increase was too onerous. He also called on the BPA to rescind its 50 percent water rate increase and consider the phased-in approach. The two boards will meet in joint session March 14.
He asked council to consider two alternatives, which would generate the needed monies, but over a longer time.
"We won't get to the higher amount quicker, but we get where we need to be," he said.
One of the proposals which council reviewed was to institute 20, 20, 15 and 15 percent increases over the next four years.
Mr. Coleman said the proposal would actually increase revenues over four years at a greater total than under the 50 percent proposal. Based on a $100 bill, Mr. Coleman said, the village would be receiving $172.90 with the phased-in approach as opposed to $163.90 over the same four-year period using the 50 percent increase.
"All this is doing is spreading it out a little bit," he said.
He said the 20 percent increases would be hard enough for residents to bear, but said the annual increases would allow people to prepare themselves for coming increases.
Josh Eggleston, a rural development specialist with the Rural Community Assistance Program, advised the village on the need for increased rates, and said the idea is to generate sufficient funding to prepare for the larger projects that will come some day. He said few municipalities can come up with $3 million for a sewer plant upgrade, but money put aside from the rate increases could provide some dollars for the project.
He said he was concerned that spreading out the increases would "put stress" on the fund that would be used to handle the larger expenses coming as well as take care of repairs that arise with an aging system.
Village Fiscal Officer Christopher Paquette said the idea is to provide savings for those needed projects. He said the village has been discussing since 2005 replacing or upgrading the village's waste-water treatment plant and not generating the money quickly enough increases the risk that the village will not have the money when it's needed.
Mayor Thomas Blair Sr. said the village built its water treatment plant in the mid-1980s and now is facing the rebuilding of two pumps that could cost $10,000 each. He said the village's two water wells are now on the downside of their life expectancy of 40 to 50 years.
Mr. Eggleston said there are always ways to extend the life of equipment to save money, but there is a limit. He said it is like someone who has an older car and decides whether a $1,500 repair is worth it or whether a new car makes more sense.
Curt Johnson, BPA chairman, said the village has aging sewer lines with leaks every two feet, because of connections to other lines. He said the village lacks the funds to make repairs to those aging lines. "Right now, we don't have enough to do anything," he said.
Mr. Johnson said while Mr. Coleman's proposal eventually provides the village with more money, the 50 percent increases provide the money much quicker. "We have more money coming in, but we wouldn't have more money in," he said.
He said the village has 8.5 miles of water lines and a similar amount of sewer lines. However, he said, the village has concentrated on taking care of the village's water tower and not the underground pipes.
Ideally, Mr. Johnson said, he would like to begin the engineering this year for the eventual waste-water treatment plant upgrade in three years.
Mr. Coleman asked if those plans could be delayed by one year.
Mr. Johnson said a delay is possible. "But don't hunt me down and hang me if something goes wrong with the plant in the meantime," he said.
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