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CUMBERLAND — City residents will see a 5% increase in their water bills beginning July 1, according to city officials.

News of the water rate increase was disclosed during a budget workshop Tuesday at City Hall. Cumberland Mayor Ray Morriss and the City Council members were present for the 5:30 p.m. workshop that was followed by the regular public City Council meeting. Both meetings were conducted via videoconferencing on Facebook at “Cumberland City Hall Live Stream,” due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The city has roughly 250 total employees and a budget of $40 million. Officials are working on adopting a balanced budget for the 2021 fiscal year.

Morriss said the water rate increase was enacted by the prior administration.

“That was something that was decided on in 2018 for a 5% increase every year for three years and this is the third year of that increase,” said Morriss.

Ken Tressler, city comptroller, conducted the budget workshop. He said the city estimates total losses of roughly $830,000 due to the coronavirus’ impact on income tax withholdings and a decline in tourism dollars.

Tressler said measures have been taken to reduce costs and find additional revenue, resulting in a balanced budget for the latest draft of the figures.

“We have a balanced budget here,” said Tressler. “We do have significant reliance on state funding sources and there is a lot of COVID-19 uncertainties. But with the potential of getting federal assistance for lost revenue associated with COVID-19 that could be a very important thing for us.”

A new round of federal stimulus funding is working its way through Congress that includes a relief package for local governments if passed.

City officials will leave the property tax rate unchanged. It will remain at 1.0595% of the assessed value of homes. The real estate tax rate has remained the same since 2018 when it was increased by 9.5% from 0.9654% to 1.0595% of the assessed value.

Tressler said measures taken to offset losses from the virus outbreak included reducing a pilot property rehabilitation fund from $100,000 to $30,000, saving $70,000. A trial program, the fund was created to allow property owners to apply for grants for property rehabilitation projects.

Tressler said savings also came by decreasing funds earmarked for property code violations, or nuisance abatement, from $300,000 to $200,000.

In light of a delay in the $9.6 million Baltimore Street Rehabilitation Project construction start date from October to April, Tressler said that will decrease expenditures in fiscal 2021.

The budget also included a 50% reduction in recreation and other seasonal staffing due to COVID-19.

The city officials also announced some investments in fiscal 2021. The city is allocating $200,000 for the former Carver Community Center on Frederick Street, which was abandoned several years ago and fell into disrepair. The city is working to stabilize deterioration at the building while setting up a new governing board and bylaws. The city hopes to secure a $100,000 federal grant for the work.

The officials were cautiously optimistic for the 2021 fiscal year.

“Flexibility is the big key going forward and being able to make decisions as the year transpires depending on the cash flow and expenditures we have to put out,” said Morriss.

Tressler said sometimes savings are realized in unexpected places.

“This year is more critical than ever, but that is something we do every year,” said Tressler. “Some things we know and others are estimates. I’ll give you an example: chemicals used for snow removal. We didn’t use anywhere near our budget for last (winter). So you never know. But this year it will be more important than ever.” 

Follow staff writer Greg Larry on Twitter @GregLarryCTN.

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