BERLIN – Berlin residents could soon be seeing a new charge on their water and sewer bills.
The town’s elected officials this week talked about a recommendation to implement a new charge on both water and sewer bills to help the town build a capital reserve. The charges were recommended by Jean Holloway of the Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project (SERCAP), who conducted a rate analysis for the town.
“With no reserves at all you’re very vulnerable to a crisis,” Holloway said. “That’s pretty obvious.”
Holloway told officials during Monday’s council meeting that the town’s water and sewer funds needed capital reserves. She proposed implementing a flat fee as soon as potentially the next quarter to generate funding. She proposed a flat fee of $5 per residential EDU on the water side and $14.50 per residential EDU on the sewer side. For commercial customers, the fee would be $10 on the water side and $29 on the sewer side. She said if the fees were implemented by April 1, the water fund would have an extra $41,228 by the end of this fiscal year while the sewer fund would have an extra $120,460 by the end of the fiscal year on June 30.
“Right now you have no cushion,” she said. “None whatever. So it’s really important to get this established and the sooner the better.”
Mayor Zack Tyndall acknowledged that the town needed to build capital reserves.
“Everybody knows I don’t like to see fees go up or taxes go up, but the thing is that when we’re looking at the duty and the obligation of these funds, they need to break even,” he said. “And right now they’re not doing that. It’s an obligation that the funds have, it’s an obligation that we have as the manager of those funds. As much as it pains me to see we have no real other choice than to start establishing a capital reserve.”
Councilman Jay Knerr agreed it was necessary but suggested waiting until the next budget cycle, as citizens were facing increased costs already because of inflation.
“I think we’ve been kicking the can down the road,” Councilman Troy Purnell said. “I’ve been saying it for a long time. We’ve got to break even. We’re supposed to pay for the service that we render. There’s only one way to do that.”
Councilman Jack Orris said he agreed with Knerr. Councilman Dean Burrell said he wanted to hear from the public. Councilwoman Shaneka Nichols agreed.
“Jean, I appreciate everything you’ve done and I don’t want you to see this as us not listening or heeding your warnings, but I’m a little apprehensive on moving forward with this today without hearing what the citizens of the town think about this,” she said.
Tyndall said he’d like to explore a tax rebate to soften the impact of the new fee and would return to the council with information in February.
“What I’d like to do, we’ll take this back to the drawing board,” he said. “I’d like to see if maybe we can provide like a rebate or a refund on some of the taxes that we’ve levied this cycle in lieu of fixing the real problem which is the water and sewer fund.”