By FRANK LEWIS
PDT Staff Writer
Portsmouth City Council is considering an ordinance to raise the city’s sanitation rates from $13.86 to $15.11 per month, and from $10.59 to $11.54 for seniors. The proposal met with some resistance at Monday’s Council meeting.
Third Ward Councilman Nick Basham said he has had complaints from people in his ward, and has been stopped by citizens throughout the community that they don’t believe garbage rates should be increased.
“I agree with them because I just received my water bill a few weeks ago,” Basham said. “Even though we’re looking at different departments and different fees and services, they all hit on the same bill. Sewage and water have already been raised. Now we’re going to raise a third fee. Even though it’s not that big of a raise by itself, when you add it in to the other raises, and it all hits on one bill, the overall number keeps growing larger that we are asking the citizens to pay for.”
According to the City Auditor’s office, Basham said, the Sanitation Department has been bringing in about $1.3 million a year over the last several years.
“Last year, after expenses, it had a balance of $101,000, and next year is going to be the final year on our payment for the trucks. Next year we won’t have that payment. So when we’re talking about the (trash) compactor, instead of raising rates right now, we’re going to have enough money by the end of next year to cover the compactor without raising garbage rates. I hate to raise them now if we’re going to have the money to take care of it.”
Portsmouth City Auditor Trent Williams corrected Basham, saying the city will not have the truck payment next year.
“So we’re going to have even more of a surplus to help cover on the compactor,” Basham said.
One of the main purchases the city wants to make with the additional funds is a larger trash compactor at the city’s transfer station.
“I hate to see us raise the rates on the third service if the fund is doing OK,” Basham said.
“Actually, that fund isn’t really doing OK because we’re going to need, and we didn’t put it in this year, new trash trucks,” Portsmouth Mayor David Malone said. “So we’re still going to have upwards of $100,000 payments for new leases on trucks.”
“If we held off one year on those trucks, we could have the compactor and the trucks the following year, and no one’s rate goes up,” Basham said. “I’m just trying to figure out how we can do this and not raise fees on the citizens all in one year.”
Fourth Ward Councilman Jim Kalb took issue with Basham’s premise.
“Everything else is going up, and the contract is coming up again, and we’re going to get hit hard with landfill fees, also,” Kalb said.
Portsmouth Council President John Haas said since the sewage rates, water rates, and city income taxes had all gone up, the city should wait until next year when, “it might be more palatable. We might be better served to wait until next year.”
Williams said Council had said at the last City Council meeting that it was almost an emergency, and that the city couldn’t wait for the compactor, then said - “without borrowing the money or increasing your rates, you do not have the money to operate your system as needed for this year.”
Williams reiterated what he has said in the past, that he hates to see a general fund at a low balance, zero or at a deficit at the end of the year.
“It hasn’t been raised since 2008, and the consequence of that is where they find us now,” First Ward Councilman Kevin Johnson said. “Nine percent will bring in only about $92,000 a year. For seniors, the increase is less than a dollar a month. For the rest of us $1.40.”
Second Ward Councilman Rich Saddler agreed with Basham that it would be better to see the fund drop down to near zero balance and be able to pay for everything without a rate increase. he said if the payments would be stretched out over two years, they would be able to do it without asking the citizens to pay for it through an increase in rate. He said, over two years the city would still have the same amount of money ($100,000) they have now in the account. Williams said after the truck payment is made the city will have under $100,000 in the account. The account Council referenced is Sanitation CIP Fund 632.
Since Council voted 3-3, they failed to give the increase a first reading. It can be brought up again in future legislation.
Frank Lewis may be reached at 740-353-3101, ext. 232, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.