CUMBERLAND — Budget talks for the mayor and city council on Tuesday revealed the potential for a $1 million deficit in the sewer department fund for fiscal year 2014, prompting a discussion on the possibility for future rate hikes.
The city’s fiscal budget, which runs from July 1 to June 30, is being hammered out by officials who have already seen sewer rates raise over the last two years.
“The sewer (income) has not made any positive contribution to the general fund for years now,” said City Comptroller Joe Urban.
Sewer rates were raised 7 percent for the current 2013 fiscal year after a 13 percent hike for fiscal year 2012.
“Wastewater treatment to-day is substantially different and far more expensive than it was years ago,” said City Administrator Jeff Rhodes.
The discussions included the suggestion of a significant increase of about 12 percent.
“I don’t know if 2 or 3 percent each year is ever going to get us there. If we don’t do what it takes to break even, the deficit will increase despite the raises,” said Mayor Brian Grim.
The officials distributed a chart that showed a 3 percent hike would generate $207,000 for the city, while a 12 percent hike would add $828,093 to the coffers.
“Water and sewer can be regulated at home, whereas increases in taxes, which we have ruled out, are across the board for everyone,” said Grim.
Grim said he would like to see the sewer fund pay for itself rather than be forced to use the general fund.
Continuing sewer improvements projects also add to the sewer funds’ debt.
“This is a worst-case scenario right now,” said Urban.
Urban pointed out that projected losses could be offset if changes are made in operating procedures.
Discussion on the sewer fund and other budget items will continue until a final vote sometime in May.
During the city’s regular meeting, which followed the budget meeting, officials announced they are getting tough on those who have shrubs, trees and other vegetation that encroach on city streets and walkways.
The city has passed a ordinance to charge citizens who do not cut vegetation back that it considers a hazard. The law states if the city is forced to do the trim work, the property owner will be charged.
The council voted to approve the measure on its first reading and table it for public discussion during a second and third reading at future meetings. If no objections are made, the ordinance will go into law.
Greg Larry can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org