La Plata con­tin­ues bud­get work

Maryland Independent - - News - By TIF­FANY WAT­SON twat­son@somd­news.com

On May 16, the La Plata Town Coun­cil held a work ses­sion to con­tinue dis­cussing the Fis­cal Year 2018 Bud­get, specif­i­cally the in­creased rates and fees in en­ter­prise funds.

As promised in last week’s work ses­sion, Town Man­ager Daniel Mears and Town Trea­surer Robert Oliphant pre­sented the town coun­cil with ex­am­ples of a res­i­den­tial bill, com­pared to a res­i­den­tial bill show­ing the pro­jected in­crease in wa­ter, sewer and main­te­nance rates as pro­posed by staff in the FY18 Bud­get.

“The typ­i­cal bill we uti­lize 14,400 gal­lons of con­sump­tion. We put to­gether an anal­y­sis of what the cur­rent rate is and the pro­posed rate would be ac­cord­ing to the staff’s rec­om­men­da­tions. It would be an over­all in­crease of 1.98 per­cent for a typ­i­cal res­i­den­tial bill.,” Mears said.

In the en­ter­prise funds, staff rec­om­mended a re­duc­tion in the san­i­ta­tion fee of 5 per­cent, wa­ter rates to in­crease just over 11 per­cent, and sewer rates to in­crease just over 4 per­cent. Mears said the in­crease in costs as­so­ci­ated with the wa­ter and sewer fees is due to the in­creased cost of pro­vid­ing those ser­vices.

Mayor Jean­nine James asked, “Have we cut out all the fat that can be pos­si­bly cut for the util­ity bill? Is there any way that we can keep costs down, and is the quar­ter in­crease go­ing to make or break us?”

“I like the fact that we can ad­just the bud­get dur­ing the year, but I don’t like that we’re charg­ing cus­tomers any­where from $24 to $40 more a year on our pro­jec­tion,” James said.

Oliphant said it doesn’t make or break the town, but there will be ram­i­fi­ca­tions. “We be­lieve it is the low­est that we can go rea­son­ably to be pro­vid­ing the ser­vice that we’ve been pro­vid­ing this quar­ter,” he said.

Direc­tor of Oper­a­tions Robert Stahl said main­te­nance is sig­nif­i­cant be­cause elec­tric­ity and chem­i­cal costs go up.

“The state has steady man­dates that get tighter and tighter on dis­charge per­mits and en­vi­ron­men­tal ven­ti­la­tion,” he said.

Mears said the town has al­ways fo­cused on pre­ven­ta­tive main­te­nance.

“There are ways we can re­duce some of the costs but a lot of the ex­penses are main­te­nance items. Could we lower this num­ber by $30,000? ... Yes, but we don’t know or fore­see whether that would be detri­men­tal in the cur­rent year,” Mears said.

Coun­cil­man Brent Fi­na­gin said he no­ticed the bud­get goes up re­gard­less of a grow­ing sur­plus.

“It seems coun­ter­in­tu­itive to me that you would in­crease the bud­get for a line item that’s pro­duc­ing larger and larger sur­pluses ev­ery year,” Fi­na­gin said.

Oliphant says the sur­plus stays in the fund bal­ance.

“How­ever, if we keep do­ing that, we are go­ing to be in a deficit sit­u­a­tion when we do the an­nual fi­nan­cial re­port. Right now we have a fund bal­ance of $1.2 mil­lion. In four years we will be $4.8 mil­lion in the hole. That’s if we kept go­ing as we are. My pro­jec­tion is that the coun­cil will be rais­ing rates ev­ery year for the con­sumer for the next five years,” Oliphant said.

“I un­der­stand that it has to be raised this year but I don’t un­der­stand why there is no way that we can rec­tify this. The per­cep­tion from con­sumers is that we’re just rais­ing rates ev­ery year and com­ing af­ter them, but that’s not the case. They see that their rates creep up with no end in sight. But it also seems that if you put it off for a year, you pay the price,” Fi­na­gin said.

Oliphant said rais­ing this year’s rates by 20 per­cent would most likely solve that prob­lem.

“I don’t like that we’re in­creas­ing the rates ev­ery year, and that can be one of our goals for next year to find ways to save, but if you did more now then you would have to do less later,” he said.

Coun­cil­man Matthew Simp­son agreed, stat­ing, “Add it all on now to save us later.”

James and Coun­cil­woman Emily Mudd-Hen­dricks dis­agreed.

Coun­cil­woman Paddy Mudd said the av­er­age res­i­dent does not un­der­stand the bud­get as well as rates — not prop­erty taxes — be­ing raised. She said it ap­pears to be a pub­lic re­la­tions is­sue.

Oliphant agreed, stat­ing, “As you all are ci­ti­zen leg­is­la­tors and prob­a­bly feel the same way I do, as a ci­ti­zen who gets util­ity bills, we don’t un­der­stand it, but we can work to­gether on a way to con­vey this to the gen­eral pub­lic.”

The gen­eral con­sen­sus of the coun­cil was to ap­prove of the util­ity rates pre­sented in the FY18 bud­get with an ex­tra 2.5 per­cent in­crease in sewer.

The pub­lic hear­ing for the Town of La Plata’s FY18 bud­get will be held 7 p.m. May 30 at town hall.

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