By Alex Bridges
Woodstock officials say the town can balance its budget and give employees a raise without raising taxes.
But the town still needs to increase water and sewer rates to cover utility expenses.
Town Manager Reid Wodicka explained Friday that his proposed budget for fiscal 2015 includes a 1.5 percent increase in salaries for employees. Wodicka's budget also includes a recommendation to upgrade the part-time administrative position with the Public Works Department to full time. Otherwise, the town would see no new positions created for the next fiscal year.
Wodicka presented his proposed budget to the Town Council's Finance Committee on March 25. Wodicka gave the panel several options for the fiscal 2015 spending plan. One option called for adding an assistant chief of police but no money for pay raises. Some members did not favor that option.
Tax rates for real estate, personal property and other levies remain unchanged in the proposed budget, Wodicka said. The town charges 15 cents per $100 of assessed value on real estate and 90 cents per $100 of assessed value on personal property.
Water and sewer rates must increase by a "minimal" amount, Wodicka said. The town adjusts utility rates by a dollar amount rather than on a percentage or linear basis.
"So what we do is we go back and we look at the actual data of usage and understand what the demand structure looks like," Wodicka said. "That way it allows us to minimize the increase as much as we can."
The town currently charges $19.12 for the first 2,500 gallons of water per month for a meter under 1-inch and $21.85 for larger meters. The average customer uses 5,000 gallons of water, bringing the monthly bill to $38.24 or $43.70 depending on meter size. The town charges $41.42 and $51.28 for the first 2,500 gallons of sewer used per month depending on meter size. The average customer pays $82.84 or $102.56 for sewer service depending on meter size. Water and sewer rates are higher for customers located outside town limits.
Under the proposed utility rates, the town would increase the rate charged for the minimum 2,500 gallons per month by $7.38. The rate for the average, residential customer who uses 5,000 gallons per month will increase by approximately $10.50 per month. The combined bill for using 5,000 gallons of water and sewer will be $114 per month, Wodicka said.
The increases in the rates would be higher had the town raised the levies by a certain across-the-board percentage to cover a deficit in the utility fund, Wodicka said. He credited staff for making the calculations that helped keep the increases down.
The increase in the utilities rates is higher for water use than sewer, primarily because the town anticipates spending more money on system improvements in the future, Wodicka said. The only major capital project slated for fiscal 2015 involves the purchase of pipe needed to upgrade some water lines. But the water treatment plant built in the 1970s, while still functioning properly, needs some work to replace aging parts, Wodicka said.
Woodstock tends to charge lower for water service than most towns and other municipal providers and higher for sewer. The proposed rates would put Woodstock near those charged currently by Strasburg, one of the highest in the area.
Woodstock is not considering a decrease in the water and sewer connection fees, Wodicka said.
The town years ago increased water and sewer fees to help cover the costs of major capital projects associated with the utilities. During the recession, town leaders opted to lessen the increases. However, as a result, the town has had to use money from the general fund to supplement the utilities fund. That practice in place for about four or five years is the opposite of what many jurisdictions do, Wodicka said.
"The intent there for the council was to kind of hold off on some of those increases to try to give people some time and get through the recession," Wodicka said. "So basically what we're doing now is balancing that [utility] fund."
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org