Aldermen approve needed sewer rate increase

Published 5:00 am Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Brookhaven residents won’t be paying more for water coming intotheir homes, but the cost for sewer treatment of water going outwill go up, city officials decided Tuesday.

Instead of going up on water rates as originally considered inbudget planning for the new year, aldermen last night approved a 75cents per 1,000 gallons increase on the charge for sewer services.The increase will mean about $2.25 more a month for the customerwho uses the minimum amount, which is 3,000 gallons.

The board move follows the recommendation of financial advisorDemery Grubbs, who found that Brookhaven’s sewer rates were”considerably lower” than its water rates. He said the majority ofsystems around the state charge as much or more for sewer than theydo for water.

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“The reasoning behind charging equal or more for sewer is thecost of providing sewer is greater than water,” Grubbs said in aletter to the mayor and board.

Officials said last night the city’s sewer rate was less thanhalf its water rate and about $5 a month less than what similarlysized communities charge for sewer services. Even with the approvedincrease, Brookhaven’s sewer rate will be below those othercommunities.

The sewer rate increase is expected to generate sufficientrevenue to cover the city’s bond issue debt service obligation andconsiderably higher utility expenses for operating water wells,lift stations, the water plant and waste water treatment facility.All those facilities must stay in operations, and related utilitycosts have risen over $250,000 in the last two years.

“It covers the things we really have no control over,” saidMayor Bob Massengill.

The mayor also pointed out the increase will place the burden onthose who use more water. For example, he said a customer who usesone million gallons of water a month will be paying $750 more amonth for sewer services.

“Those that put a greater demand on the sewer will pay a higheramount,” the mayor said.

The water and sewer budget is an enterprise fund, meaning itmust be self-sufficient with user fees generating enough revenue tocover expenses. General fund money, which comes mainly from salesand property taxes, cannot be used to balance a water and sewerbudget.

That fact left few options besides addressing rates, officialsindicated.

“If it’s got to stand on its own, we’ve got to go with it,” saidWard Six Alderman John E. “Buddy” Allen.

In other budget matters, Massengill updated the board onnegotiations on a new garbage pickup contract.

The mayor was optimistic the new contract would have nosignificant increase over the current one. Any increase is expectedto be passed on to customers with no other adjustments by thecity.

The new contract will also have provisions for addressing fuelcosts, and rates may need to be adjusted as needed for those costs,the mayor said. In addition, officials are seeking cost estimatesshould the city need to change from twice a week pickup to once aweek service.

“I’m hopeful we won’t have to do that,” Massengill said.

Solid waste contract proposals are expected to come in Sept.13.

Earlier last night, officials held a public hearing for citizensto comment on the city budget before it is approved and the newfiscal year starts Oct. 1. Following last night’s work, new budgetsare slated to be approved at next Tuesday’s regular meeting.

Resident Johnny Perkins spoke up at the hearing regarding cityreserve funds, which he felt should be higher; city employeeinsurance, which he thought consumed too much of the budget andshould be bid competitively; and recently approved 3 percentaldermen pay raises, which he said were unwarranted. The 3 percentwas the same percentage approved for city employees.

With aldermen also being covered under the city’s insurancepolicy, Perkins said that amounted to almost $30,000 a year.

“That’s a pretty good salary for a part-time job, and I don’tthink you need an increase,” Perkins said.

Allen spoke up forcefully in defense of the board member payraise. He cited higher gasoline prices and his activities as analderman as justification.

Ward Five Alderman D.W. Maxwell, who was not present to hearPerkins’ comments, later addressed comments and criticism regardingthe alderman pay raise situation.

Maxwell took exception to an alderman’s pay being cited whilethat of other elected officials – such as the city clerk and chiefof police – was not. He said the cost of living was up 29 percentsince the last alderman pay raise and it was unfair that boardmembers were being “singled out.”

“I don’t think of elected officials as employees,” Maxwellsaid.

City Clerk Mike Jinks questioned the comment and some otheraldermen disagreed with the statement.

“It just seems like it’s a huge thing when aldermen get anincrease,” Maxwell said.

According to the budget, the city clerk’s salary is $51,360following a recently approved $3,600 a year increase for handlinggrant administration duties and will go to $53,178 a year. Thechief of police’s salary is $51,118 and will go to $52,652 ayear.

The city clerk and chief of police are elected while other citydepartment heads are appointed.

Ward One Alderman Dorsey Cameron indicated the lack of publicinterest in the budget signified approval of the board’sactions.

“If people didn’t trust us to make the right decisions, therewould have been more than two people here,” said Cameron, referringto public hearing attendance.

Alderman at large Les Bumgarner repeated his opposition to a payraise for the board.

“It’s just something personal that I have a problem in votingfor a raise,” Bumgarner said.

Overall, Massengill said the approximately $9.2 million generalfund budget is balanced, with an over $219,000 surplus anticipatedat the end of the next fiscal year in September 2007.

“We are building a reserve,” Massengill said.