05/26/10 — Fremont board still pondering hikes to water, sewer rates

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Fremont board still pondering hikes to water, sewer rates

By Laura Collins
Published in News on May 26, 2010 1:46 PM

The Fremont Board of Aldermen took another look at the proposed budget for 2010-11 Tuesday night, but made little progress.

The concerns about the proposed budget, which was first presented at the May 18 board meeting, are centered around the suggested rate increases for water and sewer. The budget proposes an 11 percent increase in sewer to account for the 5 percent increase the city of Goldsboro placed on the town in 2009 and the additional 5 percent increase the city is proposing for July.

The budget also calls for a 17 percent increase in water rates. That increase comes from the suggestion of a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, Division of Government. The decision to have the university take a closer look at the rate structure stemmed from a letter the town received in January from the Local Government Commission. In the letter, several concerns about the town's budget were cited. Town Administrator Kerry McDuffie said the Local Government Commission continues to question what will be done about the town's utilities.

"They didn't ask 'if,' they asked when and how much is the increase," McDuffie said.

He said the town got in this position because it hasn't done small, cost-of-living increases each year, and now they are faced with large increases. The water rate was last increased in 2003 and the sewer was increased in 2004. The sewer rate was then decreased for in-town residents in 2007.

"And I can't say that 11 percent will be enough, but I can't recommend more than that right now," McDuffie said. "I should have recommended a 5 percent increase last year. You can only go up so much. It's a whole lot better to do multiple smaller increases than fewer large increases. If you increase too much you're going to start running people out of town."

Board members spent time discussing ideas for lowering town costs in order to lower the water and sewer increases. Harold Cuddington suggested cutting part-time employees. But in most cases, such as the police department, part-time employees are working in place of hiring a full-time employee. Cutting part-time employees and hiring a full-time employee would likely cost the town more money through benefist and other expenses, McDuffie explained.

Board member Leon Mooring said he wants to keep the town from continuing to go into debt because it's spending more for water and sewer than it's taking in.

"We keep going further, further and further in debt and it's going to get to the point where we have to cut everything," he said.

McDuffie added that the proposed increases do not get the town out of debt, it just keeps them from continuing to go deeper into debt.

Board member Leroy Ruffin suggested only a 5 percent increase in sewer rates to make up for the City of Goldsboro's 2009 5 percent increase the town has been paying. He then later suggested an 8 percent increase in water and a 9 percent increase in sewer.

Mayor Devone Jones suggested voting for the 11 percent increase in sewer, then if the spray field opens and saves the town money, they can decrease the rate later on. A construction meeting for the spray field is planned this week. It will be followed by about six months of construction before it will open. McDuffie previously estimated that the spray field would save the town about $81,000 annually, after costs are deducted.

Board members voted to continue work on the budget at another work session at 7 p.m. Tuesday.