Water rate hikes and budget highlight council meeting

Authored by Jim Langham on Aug 15, 2012

After considerable discussion, Berne City Council voted in favor of the first water rate hike in 30 years at Monday's bi-monthly meeting. Council members voted to raise rates from a current $9.54 to $17.96, with an increase of 40 percent at $8.42. The rate grew out of a presentation in July in which Steve Carter, a consultant with H.J. Umbaugh and Associates, pointed out that water reserve funds have fallen from $1.3 million three years ago to the current amount of $500,000.
Maller noted that a portion of that reflected the construction of the new water tower last year.
"We're not in a bad situation but something has to be done before we get there," said council member Philip Provost. "The amount of money is dwindling so it is going to make it a pretty extensive increase."
Councilmen Ron Dull said he realizes this is a big change, but he hopes that residents will realize that the city has bitten the bullet over a long period of time in attempt to protect residents from raises.
Carter had said that council could also choose to pull hydrant rental fees out of the general fund and incorporate that into the raise. However, council members and Maller agreed that they didn't want to raise the rate any more at this time.
Council also gave consideration in finalizing budget plans for 2013. Maller told council members that the first step in the process was to gain approval for publishing in the newspaper on suggested dates of Aug. 27 and Dec. 3. Other dates in budget preparation include submitted to the county auditor by the end of August, a pre-adoption hearing on Oct. 9 and a public hearing on Oct. 27.
One of the more significant increases in the upcoming budget, said Maller, is in the street fund, which will see a hike from $4,500 to $25,000. A majority of that, said the clerk-treasurer, is due to upcoming purchase of street signs and compliance with the American with Disabilities Act (ADA).
The budget for 2013 is $1,704,120, compared to $1,564,250 in 2012.
Maller noted that assessed valuations from 2013 have increased to $126,129,265 as opposed to $123,840,094, a factor that will be of considerable help in meeting budget needs.
The maximum tax levy for 2013 is $1,208,079 as compared to $1,149,661 in 2012.
"This is not a fat budget, but it is adequate to meet the needs we have," Maller said. "It helps because we tightened our budget a couple of years ago."
Also on Monday, council members approved a rate hike of 2.8 percent to township fire departments that utilize city department services. Council had originally asked 3.5 but reduced rates on behalf of tight township financial situations.
Berne Mayor Bill McKean said he had met with township trustees last month. After hearing their situation, he "went out on a limb" and offered a 2.8 percent increase, upon council approval.
"If it helps them and doesn't hurt us, I'm fine with it," said Councilman Mark Wynn.
Council voted unanimously to approve the 2.8 percent rate hike.
Council was also informed that five businesses have turned in bids so far for roof work on the Berne Senior Center. Deadline for submitting bids is Sept. 10.

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