Esky wants water, wastewater hikes

ESCANABA – Water and wastewater rate hikes are being proposed in the 2014-15 fiscal year budget for Escanaba which continues to experience decreased state funding and increased personnel costs.

The budget draft was released to council on Thursday and is now available to the general public on the city’s website at www.escanaba.org or in print form at the city clerk’s office, announced CIty Manager Jim O’Toole.

The city’s total budget of $28 million in expenditures includes the $7,665,095 general fund budget representing day-to-day operations, explained O’Toole. This is a 2.56 percent decrease compared to the current general fund budget, he noted.

A proposed 2 percent water rate hike would represent a 49-cent monthly increase for a residential customer using 5,000 gallons of water a month, according to the proposed budget. A proposed 2 percent wastewater increase would equal a 37-cent monthly hike for customers using 5,000 gallons of wastewater a month.

No rate hikes for electric or garbage customers are included in the 2014-15 budget.

In addition to less state revenues, other factors affecting Escanaba’s upcoming budget include cost increases in health premiums and pension costs. Five employee contracts are also up for renewal in the coming year, O’Toole added.

As in past years, the electric fund will provide financial support to the general fund. This year, $463,624 is proposed to be transferred to the general budget.

“It is important to remember that this assistance allows us to maintain our level of general governmental service without having to increase taxes or further reduce or eliminate services,” stated O’Toole.

A major project in the upcoming general fund budget includes replacing the roof on the civic center using $100,000 in Bonifas Trust Funds.

Other capital improvements being planned for downtown include $25,000 in road and curb repairs, a $3,000 business weatherization program, a $50,000 property purchase/demolition program, and $6,000 in parking improvements.

O’Toole noted the above four proposed projects are part of the planning commission’s capital improvement plan which is required by state law.

Besides the general fund, other major funds include the following needs in 2014-2015: two new patrol cars ($60,000), two new public works vehicles ($73,000), a new sludge-hauling truck ($275,000), and cleaning of the wastewater digester ($98,000).

“Major street fund expenditures in the proposed budget, which support the day-to-day activities such as maintenance and snow plowing, are proposed to be $759,388,” added O’Toole.

“Local street fund expenditures in the proposed budget, which support the day-to-day activities such as maintenance and snow plowing, are proposed to be $454,872,” he said.

Each amount includes $100,000 for repaving, said O’Toole, expressing concern about future funding of city streets.

“City administration believes the quality of streets will continue to decline if more funding is not raised for repairs and maintenance,” he said, adding, “Without change at the state level in how road improvements are funded, the people of Escanaba may be faced with the reality that funds will need to be raised locally for use on our streets.”

City council will be reviewing the proposed budget during work sessions scheduled for April 8 and 9 beginning at 8 a.m. at city hall. A third session will take place April 10 if needed.

Council is scheduled to adopt the 2014-15 budget during its regular meeting on May 15.

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Jenny Lancour, (906) 786-2021, ext. 143, jlancour@dailypress.net