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White proposes higher water-sewer rates, but no tax hike

Columbia town manager Rhett White on May 6 proposed a 6% increase in water and sewer rates and a continuation of the 60.1 cents per $100 valuation property tax rate for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

His balanced budget is now open for inspection and the aldermen will hold a public hearing on the proposed spending plan on June 3.

Water and sewer rates went up 2% at the beginning of this fiscal year. Why another increase now?

Whitecap Linen Service closed its local plant last December after almost two decades as Columbia’s largest water-sewer user, slashing the town’s utilities revenues by 20%, White reported.

The 6% hike in water and sewer rates “is necessary to assure that the enterprise fund will remain in the black by covering the full costs of operations,” White explained in his budget message. Other cutbacks and deferrals will balance revenues and expenditures, he said.

State law requires publicly owned utilities to operate and pay their debts on a fiscally sound basis without tax money infusions when losses occur.

If the aldermen adopt White’s plan, in-town water users will pay $13.56 for the first 2,000 gallons per month, up from $12.79, and $3.59 per each additional 1,000 gallons, up from $3.39 currently.

Likewise, sewer rates for in-town users will increase from $14.49 to $15.36 for the first 2,000 gallons of water billed to that address, and each additional 1,000 gallons will be charged $7.37, up from $6.95.

Out-of-town water users’ rates will go up too, from $19.19 to $20.34 for the first 2,000 gallons, and from $4.94 to $5.24 for each additional 1,000 gallons per month.

Sewer rates for out-of-town users will increase from $21.74 to $23.04 for the first 2,000 gallons and from $10.40 to $11.02 for each additional 1,000 gallons.

White’s plan calls for a 2% pay increase for the town’s seven employees. It would continue the enhanced law enforcement contract with the sheriff at $96,366 and there’s a contribution to Tyrrell Volunteer Fire Department Inc. of $29,884 plus $2,000 reserve for fire truck replacement.

$33,000 is budgeted for maintenance dredging in Bush Harrell Canal and flood gate installation to prevent river water intrusion. The upcoming municipal election will cost $5,700.

To maintain the 60.1 cents property tax rate, White proposes taking $187,689 from fund reserves, a figure that includes $85,000 for a street sweeper purchase. The non-designated fund balance totals $2,014,618, he reported.

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