China Grove water and sewer rates may rise

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Jessie Burchette
Salisbury Post
CHINA GROVE ó The tax rate would remain unchanged but water and sewer rates would increase in the proposed town budget for 2009.
Acting Town Manager Bill Pless built his budget proposal on little or no revenue increases from property taxes, sales taxes and other fees and taxes.
“Bigger and better next year is not possible,” Pless said during his budget review for the Board of Aldermen Tuesday night. The tax rate would remain at 38 cents per $100 of property value.
Alderman Allen Welter suggested raising taxes as much as 5 cents to carry out needed projects. Welter noted that Landis raised taxes last year by 7 cents and didn’t hear a complaint.
Pless stressed the need to get the water and sewer funds in balance and collect enough money to pay for the charges, debt service and operations.
He repeatedly cited the problem that sewer treatment costs more than water, but the sewer rate charged to customers is the same as the water rate.
“Sewer rates have to be more than water rates because the wholesale cost is not the same,” Pless said. He added that he realizes everyone thinks the town’s rates are high, “but we have a responsibility to the citizens to cover the costs.”
During the current fiscal year, the town’s water purchases from Salisbury-Rowan Utilities are expected to run $405,000, while sewer charges will be $500,000.
Currently, the town charges $7.60 per 1,000 gallons each for water and sewer, a combined cost of $15.20.
Anticipating a 5 percent increase in water and sewer costs from Salisbury-Rowan Utilities, Pless is proposing a water rate of $8 per 1,000 gallons and a sewer rate of $8.75 per 1,000 gallons for a combined rate of $16.75. That’s an increase of $1.55.
Due to the drought and efforts to conserve water, the town’s water sales are slightly below projections this year. Sewer revenue fell short by more than $100,000, in part because the town’s industrial water users recycle water or take other steps to reduce the sewer flow. Those companies are charged based on sewer meters rather than on the water usage.
The town’s debt service payments on water and sewer improvements run almost $800,000.
Aldermen spent almost three hours working through the budget, which closely matches the current year’s spending plan.
Alderman voted to include a 2.8 percent cost of living increase for employees.
Welter favored a 2 percent increase, but Mayor Pro Tem Blair Lyseski said the town would be effectively cutting employees’ pay at less than 2.8 percent.
Other budget issues or discussions included:
– Pless recommended a slight increase in monthly compensation for the mayor and aldermen. The mayor would receive $110 monthly up from $95 and alderman pay would increase from $75 to $90.
The total yearly cost for the board would increase from $5,650 to $6,720.
– The board asked Pless to look at fees charged by neighboring towns ó Salisbury, Kannapolis and Landis ó in considering changes in an array of fees currently charged by the town.
Welter cited much higher water tap fees for Landis, at $2,000, compared to China Grove’s $900.
– Welter also urged the board to act now, during a building slowdown, to increase the town’s adequate public facilities fee from $1,700 to $4,000 per lot.
– Pless cited increases in fuel costs for every department, but said no one is sure how high the price of gas and diesel is going.
For example, the Police Department is expected to spend $33,000 on gas this year, $8,000 more than budgeted.
Pless has budgeted $35,000 for the coming year.
The staff is looking at ways to cut back on driving and reduce fuel use, Pless said.
Responding to a question, David Ketner, public works director, said he’s willing to look at an electric or hybrid vehicle for some routine tasks.
The board expects to have its final budget session May 20 at 5:30 p.m. at the Municipal Building, 205 Swink St. A public hearing on the proposed budget will be conducted at the June 2 board meeting.