Berlin Analyzes Utility Fund Budgets

BERLIN – The lack of capital funding available within the town’s utility funds highlighted a budget work session this week.

Finance Director Natalie Saleh told the town council this week Berlin needed to begin planning ahead for capital projects. She says department heads are frustrated by the town’s inability to make necessary purchases related to water, sewer, stormwater and electric.

“We have to think about what needs to be done,” she said. “There has to be a plan in place as soon as possible … Right now, it’s just we’re hoping nothing breaks.”

Mayor Zack Tyndall and members of the town council met for a utility funds budget work session Monday. Tyndall said the budgets being reviewed for each of the funds was what had been presented to him by department heads aside from a reduction in cell phone allowances and no salary increases.

In the electric fund, Tyndall highlighted the need for a rate study, as the last was completed in 2013, but said the town could not afford it.

“We’ll be exploring the best ways to move forward with a rate study in FY 23,” he said.

He added a rate study was already underway for the water fund.

“With respect to the water and sewer fund, two of our major issues at this time continue to be accurately capturing and billing for use of service along with the tremendous amount of debt on the books within the sewer fund,” he said.

Town Administrator Jeff Fleetwood reminded the council utility funds are enterprise funds and operate like businesses.

“This is revenue driven, expense driven, based off what they do and what they produce,” he said.

He reminded the council electric rates were regulated by the Public Service Commission. The proposed electric budget is $5.3 million, which represents a decrease of 2.5%. Purchase power costs are anticipated at $2.5 million.

Fleetwood said the proposed water fund budget was $938,000, essentially in line with what it was for the current fiscal year.  The sewer fund budget is proposed at $2.5 million, which is up 3% over the current year.

Saleh, following detailed presentations by department heads, stressed with its aging infrastructure the town needed to begin planning for capital projects.

“Right now, we’re talking about items we cannot do and have to have,” she said.

Though there was some talk of the potential $4 million in grant funding the town could receive through the American Rescue Plan, Tyndall said the town could not count on it now.

“Right now I think we need to budget with what we have,” he said.

The town’s budget, which can be viewed on the town website, is scheduled for a public hearing May 24.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.