Utility rates going up: Mills dropping by 8 in 2013Jamestown property taxes will be down in 2013 but the costs of utilities will rise. The changes were approved during a special budget meeting of the City Council Thursday. The net effect may reduce total costs to homeowners, depending on the amount of water they use.
By: Keith Norman, The Jamestown Sun
Jamestown property taxes will be down in 2013 but the costs of utilities will rise. The changes were approved during a special budget meeting of the City Council Thursday. The net effect may reduce total costs to homeowners, depending on the amount of water they use.
A mill-rate reduction of 8 mills will leave the city with adequate reserves, said Jeff Fuchs, city administrator. The 8-mill reduction amounts to about $38 per year on a $100,000 home.
“I estimate about an 8-mill reduction would leave the city with about a $2.4 million general fund reserve,” Fuchs said. “That is comfortable.”
Fuchs said the city attempts to have a reserve of about 25 percent of its annual operating expenses or about $1.7 million. Adequate reserves are necessary for the city to maintain a good bond rating and receive better interest rates on any bonds it issues for city projects.
“This leaves us in a very comfortable place,” said Mayor Katie Andersen.
The city general fund tax dollars are supplemented by a transfer of $250,000 from the profits of the city’s water utility fund. Charges to users of the city water, sewer and garbage utility funds will see a 5 percent increase.
A homeowner using 400 cubic feet of water each month pays about $40 per month and will see a $2 increase. Homeowners using more water pay more in utility costs and will see a greater increase.
The rate increase was included in the proposed budget submitted by the department heads and received no discussion from the City Council. The utility budget includes one additional staff person in the wastewater treatment plant and another staff person for the solid waste disposal department.
The additional person in the wastewater treatment plant would only be hired if Great River Energy begins using gray water from the wastewater treatment plant at the Spiritwood Station coal-fired generating plant.
The city has a contract to supply water to the plant when it becomes operational but the plant so far has remained shut down pending better economic conditions and higher electricity demands in Minnesota.
“We’ll need to have the plant running flawlessly or we will leave them high and dry,” said Reed Schwartzkopf, city engineer.
Andersen said the city expects increases in revenues with the sale of the water to GRE that would cover the cost of the additional staff.
Adding an additional staff member in the solid waste department was more contentious.
“We need more money or less services,” Schwartz-kopf said. “That’s where we’re at.”
Councilman Ramone Gumke suggested reducing the number of hours the inert landfill site is open to the public. The North Dakota Department of Health recently required the city to maintain a wheel loader and operator at the landfill anytime it is open to the public.
Schwartzkopf said there was demand from the public to maintain or increase service at the solid waste handling facility.
“You may be asked to increase the hours at the baler because of the workload,” he said. “We’re catching flack from people because we’re not open enough hours now.”
Currently, the hours at the garbage baler are from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. on Saturday.
“If you cut services you are going to have to have someone answer the phone because you are going to get complaints,” said Roger Mayhew, sanitation foreman.
The City Council will hold another special budget meeting at 3:30 p.m. on Sept. 17 at City Hall. On the agenda is the budget for Buffalo City Tourism Foundation and the Civic Center. The city must finalize its complete budget at its Oct. 1 regular meeting.
Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at 701-952-8452 or by email at email@example.com