NEW MARKET – Despite a proposed sharp increase in water rates, only a few citizens showed up Monday night to hear about what to expect next year in the town's 2020 fiscal year budget. Town Council members are set to vote on the combined $7,113,821 budget next month.
Town Manager Todd Walters ran through the highlights of the proposed budget, explaining why it is roughly 75% higher than the 2019 fiscal year budget. The 2019 budget lays out $2,136,818 for revenue and expenditures in water and sewer; the proposed 2020 budget lays out $5,225,245. The town is preparing to borrow between $3 million and $4 million in order to build a new water tower. Most of the increase is coming from increased water and sewer rates to help pay for that loan, Walters said.
The loan won't be secured until next year, and the town will not start paying on it until construction begins. Walters said that's why there is no payment budgeted into the proposed budget.
The general fund, which covers everything the town provides outside of water, trash and sewer services, is decreasing by 2.5 percent, Walters said. Last year, the town budgeted $1,912,388; the proposed budget has $1,888,576 in the general fund budget. He noted that most taxes will remain unchanged. The meals tax will increase from 5 percent to 6 percent; the cigarette tax is increasing from 20 cents a pack to 25 cents a pack, and the minimum water utility rate is increasing by 68 percent.
“This does not raise people’s bills 68 percent,” Walters said. “It’s just the minimum rate and the rate over 1,000 gallons.”
In effect, the increase in bills, Walters said, would be closer to 15 percent. The current minimum rate is $53.33, Walters explained. The new minimum will be $61.40, an increase of $8.07. An average home uses about 3,000 gallons, Walters said, and the bill would go up about $12.09 a month.
On the higher end, a home using 7,500 gallons a month would see an increase of $26 a month.
Despite the initial sticker shock, residents at the meeting had nothing to say about the proposed increase on Monday night.
Walters said there were some calls to the town office after the initial rate increases were announced but the town has worked hard to explain the reason for the increase and how it will affect residents.
He said the budget will also include replacing a pickup truck the town uses year-round for services such as snow plowing and salt spreading in the winter.
Other costs include a branding study that will include a re-imagining of the town’s logo, an engineering projection for improving John Sevier Road, and other sidewalk projects around town.
Council members will vote on the proposed budget at their meeting next month. They can make changes to the budget before they vote unless they decide to raise any rates or taxes beyond what the proposed budget shows. If they want to raise rates, they must hold another public hearing.