Water utility bills will go up by more than a ten dollars a month in 2013 and will increase again in 2014 if the City Council approves the budget put forth in the October 1st meeting.
Low water usage was a reason given for the need to increase water rates, though the main reason is that the City wants more money. Raising property taxes alone won't bring in enough money (because the law limits the amount that they can be raised by the City to one percent of the City's portion of the property tax), so the City is exploring other revenue sources.
To balance the budget, the City Manager proposed a 5.1 percent increase in storm drain fees, a 12.7 percent increase in EMS rates, and an 8 percent increase in water rates. These would increase water utility bills by 8.8 percent in 2013 and another 5.5 percent in 2014. Also proposed were an additional utility tax of 3.4 percent in 2013 and 5 percent in 2014 (it's unclear which utilities will be taxed), plus the increase in property taxes. All of these will be in addition to the levy for the fire station that will be voted on soon.
City Manager Rich Conrad noted that in a recent survey only 2 percent of respondents said that high taxes were the most important problem. He also repeatedly pointed out that property taxes went down in 2010. He ignored the fact that they had jumped in the years before 2010 (while property values plummeted) and that they jumped right back up after 2010 (even though property values stayed low). For many people, property taxes in 2011 were higher than they had been in 2009.
If the City needs the extra funds to provide necessary services, then we should be supportive. However, I don't know whether ALL the things the City proposes are necessary. For example, the increase in storm drain fees is due in part to street sweeping being shifted to it and to partially fund a new position: a Sustainability Coordinator. Street sweeping seems valuable, but does a Sustainability Coordinator?
The budget mentions $70,000 for transportation. We want them to have reliable vehicles, but it seems worth asking whether the cars NEED replacing or are simply scheduled to be replaced. Can they be replaced a year or two later without causing any problems?
The City wants to hire an IGS Technician. I assume this is because of their plan to buy new computers and upgrade software. We have many tech-savvy residents. Some of them might want to look into the planned upgrades/purchases to see if they are truly needed. And even if we need the upgrades and equipment, City Hall doesn't have the technological demands of a IT company. Do we need a tech person on staff full time?
Other ways that the City intends to spend money might warrant scrutiny. The City recently spent $2 million dollars resurfacing 7 miles of the Mercer Ways (and covering a few ditches). More work is scheduled for East Mercer Way--how much will that cost?
The City Council will review the details of the budget over the next several meetings (Oct. 15, 22, Nov. 5, and 19). It would be a good idea to attend these meetings (or view them online) and contact your council members with feedback.