By Josh Davis, Associate Editor
(May 3, 2018) A Berlin water rate study is underway, but that won’t mean rates will be going up in the town’s 2019 budget, nor will the property tax rate be changing, Town Administrator Laura Allen said Tuesday.
Allen said the results of the study won’t be delivered until later in the year, while the current tax rate should be sufficient to cover the town’s needs.
The word “conservative” came up several times during a Berlin utility fund budget discussion on Monday, and projections for fiscal year 2019 back up much of that talk.
According to Finance Director Natalie Saleh, the electric department budget, based on the latest draft, would increase slightly from $5.6 million in fiscal 2018 to $5.7 million.
The overall water department budget would decrease slightly, from $1.2 million to $1.1 million, and the sewer department was projected about $400,000 less, from $3 million to $2.6 million. Those numbers are likely to change before the final budget is approved, Allen said.
Water Resources and Public Works Director Jane Kreiter said portions of her budget were conservative because they did not “include anything for Ocean’s East,” the new apartment complex near Seahawk Road.
“They’re going full steam ahead, but we weren’t sure if they would start the new phase [of construction] within this next year or not,” she said.
Elsewhere, Councilman Dean Burrell noticed $1.6 million budgeted for sewer service during the current fiscal year, but only $1.1 million received through April.
He asked if there would be a shortfall.
“It most likely will be, because for some reason people aren’t utilizing the water as much, and that’s connected together [with sewer services] by metering,” Saleh said. “People are more conservative. They’re not using the sprinkler system, they’re not washing their vehicles. They’re just utilizing the water in smart ways.”
“After years of saying that you can save money by conserving, it’s actually happening,” Mayor Gee Williams said. “That’s a good thing.”
Saleh also discussed projected stormwater grants and the projects they would fund. The town is anticipating $95,500 in stormwater fees and $210,000 in prior-year surplus money, along with $1.15 million from a Department of Natural Resources grant and $100,000 from a Department of Natural Resources Community Resilience grant.
If all of that money, about $1.5 million, is received, the town plans to spend $1.2 million on two phases of the Hudson Branch Flooding Improvement Plan, along with $100,000 for improvements at Henry’s Mill and Henry’s Green.
Allen said phase one would finish work in the area of Graham Avenue, Grice Street and Nelson Street, while phase two would include an offline wetland and improvements to Bay Street and Bottle Branch Road. She said the former power substation near Burley Oak Brewing Company was being considered as the site of an offline wetland, or stormwater retention pond.
The town will not learn whether it receives grant funding until later this spring or summer.
“The mayor likes to use the phrase, ‘plan for success,’” Allen said. “We’ll plan for success and we’ll expect to get the grants and, if for some reason we don’t, we’ll adjust the budget accordingly.”
Williams added if grants were not received to pay for the improvements, “you don’t do” the projects.