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A tale of two budgets: Church Hill raising sewer rates, but general fund is in surplus

Jeff Bobo • May 17, 2018 at 8:48 AM

CHURCH HILL — Although Church Hill’s general fund budget is looking good and won’t require a tax increase, the Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted Tuesday to increase sewer rates to offset maintenance costs, both past and future.

Mayor Dennis Deal presented the BMA with two budgets going in opposite directions.

Church Hill’s general fund budget

The 2017-18 general fund budget is projected to end with a $186,000 surplus, and the proposed 2018-19 budget on the agenda Tuesday night has a surplus of $360,000.

Deal said $110,000 is set aside in the 2018-19 budget paving, and he said another $100,000 is available in the general fund if more paving is needed.

City employees will also receive a 50-cent-per-hour cost of living increase in this year’s budget.

“We have given a raise to our employees, after this budget is passed, the last 18 years,” Deal said. “That’s something, in my opinion. I’m proud of that, and I know the board is.”

Deal said salary and benefits are the reason the city maintains good employees and doesn’t have a lot of turnover.

Until two years ago, the city paid 100 percent of health insurance for employees and their families. That became financially unfeasible, but Church Hill still pays 90 percent of employee health insurance.

The city will end the current fiscal year with about $1.4 million in savings.

Church Hill’s sewer budget

The sewer budget functions separately from the general fund budget and is required by law to be self-sufficient.

Without the increase, the proposed 2018-19 budget was going to have a deficit of $41,449. Systems that operate on a deficit for two consecutive years are considered in distress, and the state can step in and mandate changes, such as a rate increase.

With the rate increase, the budget will end the 2018-19 fiscal year with $68,851.

For city residents, the sewer rate will increase 20 percent, from $16.60 for the first 2,500 gallons to $19.92.

For non-city residents, the sewer rate increases 30 percent from $20.20 for the first 2,500 to $26.33.

This is Church Hill’s first sewer rate increase in seven years.

Deal said the sewer system has experienced multiple pump failures recently which cost between $30,000 to $50,00 each, and based on the age of the system, he anticipates more pumps being replaced in the near future.

“We really should have raised sewer rates three years ago, but we really pushed back on that,” Deal said. “I wanted to know in my mind we did everything we could before we had to raise them. The last time we raised them was 2011. But the sewer has to pay for itself, and what people don’t understand is there are things in our sewer plant that are out of our control.”

Deal added, “For example, we have 17 pump stations that have to be checked three times per week. That’s a half a day each time they’re checked, two men. That’s out of our control. The state requires it. There’s a lot of testing we have to do.”

The BMA voted 6-0 in favor of approving the first reading of the 2018-9 general fund and sewer budgets and is expected to give final approval at its June 19 meeting.

Donations to the CVVFD

The BMA agreed to contribute a retired city patrol car and some used fire department turnout gear including 14 coats, 11 pants and five boots to the Carters Valley Volunteer Fire Department.

“Those folks are good to support us with mutual aid and they d a terrific job. They go everywhere in the valley,” Deal said. “I’m glad that we’re blessed enough as a city to do this.”

Mowell recognized for 13 years on Planning Commission

The BMA honored longtime Planning Commission member the late J.B. Mowell at the beginning of Tuesday’s meeting by presenting his wife and son with an appreciation plaque. Mowell passed away in January at the age of 71.

Church Hill Public Library lease renewed

The library lease was renewed by Mayor Deal, and at Deal’s request City Attorney William Phillips included an automatic renewal clause so that the lease won’t lapse unless one of the parties initiates a separation.

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