Finance Committee considers rate increases

At last Thursday’s Special Called Town Board meeting commissioners agreed to the loan terms for financing the fiber network construction. The $4.6 million for the project is being financed with a loan through BB&T.

Discussion also included hiring Service Electric Company to complete the makeready work estimated to cost $133,700. Work mainly entails fixing drip lines which are scattered throughout the existing system.

With the season here, getting to the 200+ poles that need tending will take a while because they are scattered – rather than being in a straight line – and flagmen will have to be positioned so workmen can negotiate traffic. Work is expected to take eight weeks, but a firm start date hadn’t been determined.

During the Finance Committee meeting that followed the Town Board meeting, items destined for the 2010-’20 budget were tweaked and will be discussed further at an upcoming budget meeting.

Most of the discussion centered around the Sanitation and Water departments’ budgets both of which are in the red. As enterprise funds they are supposed to support themselves and stay in the black. The Sanitation’s budget is in the red due to overtime. In 2019- ’19 $30,000 was budgeted for overtime; $45,000 was used, so the department is $15,000 in the red.

The department is over budget because of the overtime it takes for two residential pickups a week and seven pickups in the commercial district with two of those days being Saturday and Sunday – also considered holiday pay.

So, talk revolved around cutting residential pickups to once a week instead of two, especially since the town provides a dumpster for residential garbage, as well as bins for recyclables and cardboard at the Rec Park. Town crews often help each other out – jumping from department to department as needed – and that’s what’s been happening in the Sanitation Department for the residential and business district pickups.

Town Manager Josh Ward said whoever steps in, gets their hourly wage in overtime and many of the town’s employees are at their highest pay grade which means they get top dollar for overtime. Ward said he and staff will discuss the number of pickups as well as who will be eligible for overtime.

Finance Committee members Commissioners Amy Patterson and John Dotson said they don’t want to raise sanitation rates to pay for overtime until they look real hard at a possible solution. Bear-proof cans are being planted on Main Street sidewalks so the next thing on the “to do” list is bear-resistant toters in the downtown area for the businesses. The town wants to get rid of shared dumpsters on the right-of-way – particularly on Oak Street which is an eyesore as well as an open table for bears.

The town is going to buy the bear-resistant toters and offer them to businesses for about $6 a month for five years. If businesses currently have bear-resistant toters they can use them but have five years to switch to town toters. The Water Department’s operating budget is also in the red by $38,000 because those employees are at the top of the pay scale so current fees don’t cover expenses. The committee discussed either going up $1-$2 for the base rate for the first 2,500 gallons of water used or go up on the rate for the next 1,000 gallons used. Staff is going to see if increasing the overage rate will balance the bottom line or if increasing the base rate will have to do it. The committee will report its findings to the Town Board for the final decision on ways to get the Sanitation and Water Departments in the black.

– Kim Lewicki, Highlands Newspaper

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