Vergennes sewer-rate hike likely

VERGENNES — At its June 13 meeting the Vergennes City Council discussed a proposed 2017-2018 sewer budget and the higher rates that might be needed to support sewer spending.
City Manager Mel Hawley said on Wednesday they did not make a final decision on either, but it appears a second rate increase after one in 2016 could be inevitable. However, that increase would also be just the second since 2006.  
The council is in the process of creating the overall 2017-2018 city budget, and must finish that task and set the municipal tax rate needed to support that spending by June 30.
But they did not adopt Hawley’s proposed $680,200 user-supported sewer budget on Tuesday, nor did they change the basic $96 per-unit quarterly user rate.
The proposed sewer budget is just $6,000 higher than the current sewer budget, but Hawley said on Wednesday sewer revenues project to be $18,000 less than his proposal. Thus, his budget assumes the council would use all $18,000 of a projected year-end fund balance to pay for the increase.
Hawley said said the sewer fund’s balance was $42,000 in the black in June 2016, when the council elected to use $24,000 of that sum to help fund the current budget.
Thus, he said, without looking at another rate increase the council would be cutting it close.
“You’re really already looking at running on fumes, if not at red ink,” Hawley said. “You don’t want to go by too many quarters (without acting).
The council raised the quarterly rate to $96 from $87.50 a year ago, the first increase in a decade, but in doing so then debated whether they should have raised the rate even more.
Given Hawley’s description of the fund balance there was more debate about the rate last night, he said.
He added Alderwoman Lynn Donnelly said sewer users might also find it to be more acceptable if the council imposed an increase in the spring rather than just before winter.
Regardless, Hawley said the council must revisit the budget question this month, and the rate question sooner or later.
“Everyone knows these numbers aren’t going to improve with age,” Hawley said.
In other business on June 13, the Vergennes City Council:
•  Heard Hawley’s report of his late-May visit with County Forester Chris Olson on the city’s downtown green. Olson said none of the green’s trees were unhealthy enough to warrant removal without a public hearing. Tree removal had been suggested as a way to help the grass grow by reducing shade. Olson suggested instead removing limbs from the trees, planting more shade-tolerant strains of grass or possibly roping off the troubled areas to give the grass a chance to recover.
On this past Tuesday Hawley said the council agreed to remove limbs from some trees in an effort to provide more sunshine.
•  Listened to five city residents express their concerns that the council should continue to make every effort to ensure the city pool remains in good condition because of its high value as a summer recreation resource. The pool was set to open to the public this past Saturday.
•  Re-appointed Hawley to a three-year term as city zoning administrator at the recommendation of the Vergennes Planning Commission. The council also re-appointed Hawley and planning commission chairman Shannon Haggett as the city’s delegates to the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, and Cheryl Brinkman as an alternate delegate. The council is seeking a second alternate to replace Bill Benton, who declined to serve another term as alternate, Hawley said.

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