By TESA GLASS
---- — MT. VERNON — The City Council will be discussing a 3 percent water rate increase for the next fiscal year, and ordinances are being prepared for approval.
"A three percent increase still leaves us short on the ending balance to meet our fiscal policy ordinance," Councilman David Wood pointed out during a council workshop on Tuesday. "If we were to raise it 4 percent, that would put us over the fiscal policy guidelines. My opinion is we don't have to address this all at once. Fix this remaining piece over two years."The public utilities department operates at a "cash in, cash out," basis, when six years ago, it was being subsidized by the general corporate fund. "When you look historically at where we've been with this fund, five years ago we were in the hole," Mayor Mary Jane Chesley said. "We've dug ourselves out of that hole."City Manager Ron Neibert presented the council with three budget proposals for the public utilities fund, one with no increase, another with a one percent increase and the three percent increase. Under the fiscal ordinance which the council passed last fall, the city should end the year with $567,000. Under the level budget, the fund would have an ending balance of $346,834; under the 1 percent increase plan, the ending balance would be 404,726; and under the 3 percent increase proposal, the ending balance would be $520,000.Councilman Ron Lash wanted to know how much the increase would impact an average bill. According to Neibert, the average bill is about $60 per month, and the 3 percent increase would add $1.80 per month.The council also discussed the water main replacement projects that are planeed — from capital improvement fund monies and not from the public utilities fund — that would address water loss in the city."People are not aware of the water loss that can be recouped by updating the water system and how significantly that impacts their bill as well," Lash said. "With that increase, we need to show how it can improve their water bill in a positive way."Lash said he would like to see information on the increase and the public utilities fund on the back of the next water bills that go out."With handouts, it may not get to a lot of people," Lash explained. "This way, anyone who gets the water bill will see what's going on."Wood said with past increases, in particular ones that passed five years ago to address the deficit spending in public utilities, people understand when they are informed."Of all the things we have done that were controversial at one time or another, people understand you have to pay for what things cost," Wood said. "Our essential policy has been to just pay the costs. We haven't done what other communities have done and raise water rates to pay for police, fire and other city services. I know that it's our commitment."Lash said his goal in putting information on the bill is to get accurate information to the public.