Some council members change their minds on fee increases

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(Posted Oct. 15, 2018)

By Amanda Ensinger, Staff Writer

Some Mount Sterling village council members have changed their minds regarding proposed increases in the debt fees residents and commercial businesses pay for water and waste water.

The proposed increases were introduced at council’s Sept. 24 meeting. The purpose is to help pay back loans for renovation of the wastewater plant and construction of the new water plant. The village owes $3.8 million on the wastewater loan and $9.5 million on the water plant loan. Without new revenue, the village will not have enough money to pay the loan payment due in the spring.

On Sept. 24, council voted 3-3 with Mayor Billy Martin breaking the tie with a “yes” vote to move the resolution forward. On the second reading, held Oct. 8, council’s vote was 4-2 in favor of the increases. The final reading and potential adoption of the increases is set for Oct. 22. If passed, the increases would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.

Council members David Timmons and Tom Ward cast the two “no” votes on Oct. 8. Previously, Timmons voted “yes.”

“This is a very tough decision and I have to go with my heart,” Timmons said. “I have talked to so many people on fixed incomes that this will significantly impact. I just can’t ask people to pick between medicine, food and water.”

Mayor Martin responded, “Voting with your heart isn’t going to pay the millions of dollars we are in debt. This is a suggestion by the (state auditor), and they have said we cannot default on this loan. We have looked at every other option, but this is the only way.”

Originally, council members Rebecca Burns and Tammy VanSickle voted “no” on the increases. Both voted “yes” on Oct. 8, joining Lowell Anderson and Becky Martin.

“Before the last council meeting, we thought we might be able to use capital improvement funds to lessen this burden on residents and wanted to explore that option,” Burns said. “However, after meeting with the auditor and seeing the finances after we make the December (loan) payment, I saw we won’t have enough funds to fix other issues that could arise. We need to have additional money in case emergencies arise, so we can address other issues in the village.”

Some council members said that in addition to the debt fee increases, they want to look at other ways to generate revenue so they could potentially reduce this burden in the future.

“I still want to look at other creative ways we can generate revenue, including selling water,” said council member Becky Martin. The water plant is capable of producing 900,000 gallons of water per month.

“I understand the burden this puts on residents and know this is painful to pay,” Martin said of the proposed increases.

The proposed legislation calls for raising the monthly debt fee for water and sewer by between $49.40 and $50.85 for residential properties. For commercial businesses, the rate would increase by $50.25. The volume rate paid by industrial businesses would go up by $5.95.

Currently, residents pay a monthly debt fee of  between $20.40 and $21.85, commercial businesses pay $21.25, and industrial businesses pay a volume rate of $8.35.

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