Town leaders Monday gave final approval to increases in water and sewer fees and initial approval to a property tax increase as part of the 2014-15 budget.
Mayor Donnie Grice and several Town Council members said the increases are necessary to keep up with the rising costs of operating the town.
“We try to wait as long as we possibly can before we make any increases,” Grice said before the votes. “And sometimes that gets us in a jam, and that’s where we are.”
Grice said that “everything around us is increasing,” citing increases in the cost of fuel, insurance and employee retirement expenses, among others. “We want to try to maintain a nice level of service.”
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James Nivens, a town resident, objected to the increases during a public hearing on the 2014-15 budget, which goes into effect July 1.
Nivens cited a tax increase last year, asking, “Is this a yearly thing now? I don’t understand why we can’t live within our budget.”
The council Monday gave final approval to a $4.6 million general operating budget. It also gave initial approval to an increase in property taxes for town operations and a small increase in property taxes to pay off debt.
Town Manager Allison Harvey said the property tax increase on homeowners, for both town operations and debt service, amounts to $8.80 more in taxes a year for each $100,000 in assessed property value.
She said the increase will generate about $33,000 more in revenue for the town each year.
The water and sewer rate increases approved by the council include a base monthly fee, determined by the size of the customer’s water connection, and a water usage fee.
The council also approved an increase in the one-time water and sewer connection fee, assessed on new construction.
The base water and sewer fee would be $14 a month for homeowners who have a typical 3/4-inch connection, Harvey said. That same fee would be $22.40 a month for business customers with a larger, 2-inch connection.
The usage fee, which now runs $57 a month for an average home water usage of 4,000 gallons a month, would go up to $65 a month for the same usage, she said.
Harvey said a study of water and sewer connection fees showed those one-time fees on new construction were well below similar charges in other communities.
The residential connection fee for a typical 3/4-inch connection would increase from $500 for water and $550 for sewer, or a total of $1,050 for both connections, to $1,500 for water and $2,230 for sewer, or $3,730 for both connections, she said.
The 2014-15 budget includes $71,000 for a 3 percent cost of living raise for employees.
Council members agreed to give a 2.3 percent across-the-board cost of living increase to all town employees, effective July 1.
The council agreed that the remaining .7 percent increase could be awarded at Harvey’s discretion, based on the recommendations in a recent compensation study of town employees.
One reason for the budget increases in the recreation department is the cost of operating Clover’s New Centre Park, which opened last year, council members said.
Grice said in addition to operating costs for the park, it costs money for the recreation department to operate its athletic programs.
“It costs to put those kids out on the field,” he said. “We never come out to the good on that.”
Council members Jay Dover and Todd Blanton also said the increases are necessary. “In order to provide the services we have, it’s what we’ve got to do,” Blanton said.