BERLIN — Town utility funds in Berlin remain on strong financial footing, despite challenges, according to the Town Council.
During an enterprise fund meeting this week, the recently created stormwater utility was discussed and it will officially start operating with two employees slated on July 1, which is when residential and commercial properties in town will start receiving billing for the new department.
At the meeting, part of the budget process, the council reviewed the status of Berlin’s electric, water and waste water utilities. While numbers are generally steady with last year, Mayor Gee Williams said that he feels “really good about where we are” with all of the utilities and doesn’t anticipate any major concerns in the next few years.
“They are all financially sound and there’s no crisis among any of them, which is great because these utilities, all of our enterprise funds, they’re things that absolutely are essential to daily life,” Williams said.
One area where Williams admitted some consideration needs to be applied is with the condition of vital equipment in both the electric and water departments.
“We’ve got the same problem that everybody else does in that some aspects of the system are aging but it’s not everything everywhere,” he said.
An ongoing goal with electricity for next year and the years to follow will be making Berlin more “energy independent,” according to the mayor.
Electric Utilities Director Tim Lawrence agreed, voicing his unease that the town is entirely reliant on one major source of incoming energy.
“That’s one of the things that concerns me a lot. We only have one feed coming into this town. If you ever lose the Delmarva feed you’re in trouble,” he said.
Revenue for the electric utility is predicted to drop to a proposed $5,484,776 for FY2014, about $400,000 under the $5,875,933 from the year prior. However, the slight dip was expected by the council due to the lowering of non-residential rates this year.
Revenues for water and waste water are up from last year. However, special connections are down from where they were anticipated to be last year.
“As you can see [water and sewer] revenues we anticipate this year will go up about 7 percent,” Water Utility Director Jane Kreiter told the council, adding that waste water should see a 4 percent increase. “This year, however, the special connections didn’t quite meet our expectations.”
Water utility revenues are expected to increase next year to $892,100, up from $850,500. Waste water should see a similar bump anticipated to rise to $1,929,295 from $1,856,130. However, special connections for water are only $13,275 year-to-date (YTD) while they were budgeted in FY2013 for $175,000. For wastewater, special connections are $36,783 YTD while budgeted for $367,830.
The remedy for that could be, in part, the completion of a water-sewer line that travels along Route 818.
“With the 818 project coming to an end and the potential for additional growth in other various parts around town, we’re hoping we can get those 30 EDUs purchased,” said Kreiter, noting that this would increase special connections revenues.
The newly commissioned stormwater department will begin working this summer collecting capital for upcoming projects as well as performing some basic maintenance to that town that Williams said has been ignored for decades.
“Eventually after everything is done, they will have a planned cycle of maintenance that can be maintained indefinitely,” he said. “And that is something the town has never had the capacity to do.”
Two dedicated employees for the utility will join the town starting July 1, which is when bills will begin to be collected from residential and non-residential properties to fund future stormwater construction projects. All properties in town, including non-profits and those owned by Worcester County such as schools, will be billed the same, stressed Williams, though residential properties will be on a flat fee rate, while commercial and other non-residential properties will have their individual rates determined by their impervious surface.
“We’re not doing anything unusual, avant-garde, or out of the ordinary. We’re doing it in the way that is commonly accepted as the most responsible and fairest way … When it comes to the environment, we are all responsible for it,” said the mayor.
Even with the utility about to become active, with letters to property owners explaining billing and impervious surface findings due in May, Williams acknowledged that some in the community are still unhappy with the formation of the town’s dedicated stormwater division.
He predicted, however, that within a few years the only question people will have is why the town took so long forming a utility.
Besides reviewing utilities, the town also took a moment Monday to approve four special appropriations that have been discussed before but still required a vote. The council unanimously allotted $10,000 the Berlin Little League, $1,000 to the BRAVE program and $2,500 to the Worcester Youth Internship program. An annual grant of $7,500 for Diakonia was also approved.