Fee Increases Can Wait For New Budget

Fee Increases Can Wait For New Budget

It seems a certainty fees for town services in Berlin will be heading up considerably soon, but we disagree they are needed at the start of the next fiscal quarter.

Berlin property owners need to be keeping a close eye on how their elected officials are governing. The decisions ahead will hit their bank accounts. Last week, new flat fees were suggested to bolster the capital reserve funds for the water and sewer utilities. New quarterly charges were discussed of $5 per residential EDU ($10 for businesses) and $14.50 per residential EDU on the sewer side ($29 for commercial). Implementing the fees in the quarter starting April 1 would bank the town $120,460 by June 30. This week stormwater fees were discussed and they are likely heading up as well. The question is how much.

Nine years ago, the town’s stormwater utility was created with two employees starting on July 1, 2013. During a discussion of the town’s utility funds at the time, then-Berlin Mayor Gee Williams said, “they are all financially sound and there’s no crisis among any of them,” referring to the electric, water and wastewater utilities. At a meeting in January of 2013, many business owners criticized the stormwater utility fee structure – commercial properties paying $25 per 2,100 square feet of impervious surface (for example, the county schools in town are charged $14,825 annually) and residential properties paying a flat $50 fee. The idea was the utility would help secure grants and create a master plan to address chronic flooding.

The proposal put forward by the consultant this week was to double the residential fee to $100 and increase the commercial  fee by 40% to $35 per  2,100 square feet of impervious surface. The additional revenue would cover the stormwater fund’s operational losses, halting the status quo practice of robbing the general fund to balance it.

The discussion later this month about increasing these fees needs to include estimates on new tax revenue the Town of Berlin will see from booming assessments. While it’s true the user fees should support the individual utility funds serving residents, an argument should also be made town citizens and businesses should not have to correct a problem in one quarter. This problem has been years in the making. It’s not an emergency to correct the issue.

If the fees are increased as proposed, they should start with the new budget on July 1. In the meantime, we would like to hear what the town plans to do with the significant new revenue coming its way from booming property reassessments. The fee increases would be palpable if it came with an outline of a property tax rate reduction due to the soaring property values in town.

About The Author: Steven Green

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The writer has been with The Dispatch in various capacities since 1995, including serving as editor and publisher since 2004. His previous titles were managing editor, staff writer, sports editor, sales account manager and copy editor. Growing up in Salisbury before moving to Berlin, Green graduated from Worcester Preparatory School in 1993 and graduated from Loyola University Baltimore in 1997 with degrees in Communications (journalism concentration) and Political Science.