NEWBERRY — Mayor Foster Senn expressed concern to City Council members Tuesday about amending certain sections of the electrical service codes of the City of Newberry.
The section would raise both the electrical and water and sewer rates for city customers. During city council’s review of the draft budget, they discussed the need to adjust their retail electric rates to offset the 9.88 percent wholesale electric rate adjustment which was implemented by the Piedmont Municipal Power Agency in May.
The current average residential electric rate is $125.65, with the average potentially going up to $140 in the fiscal year of 2015, eventually reaching the rate of $145.90 as presented to council Tuesday.
Council in the past also discussed the need to adjust the city’s retail water and sewer rates. Council members were asked to vote on a five-year increase as projected to raise the current average from $15.33 for water to $19.63 for the fiscal year of 2015. The sewer would go from an approximate $24.90 to $33.60.
The revenue from these is necessary, according to Utility Director Marc Regier, as they would generate the funds to do projects such as the new substation. Regier said the increases were set up to handle the costs, unless other funds from grants, etc. became available.
Senn felt some of the estimates of how much the rates would increase for customers over the next five years were too steep.
Regier said it could be modified, they were simply committing to rate increases as you couldn’t borrow money, if you can’t show that you can modify rates to handle the debt capacity that is necessary.
City Manager Al Harvey said the rates were suggested by their financial consultant as to how they should handle borrowing the amount of money needed for the projects.
Senn said while he understood all of the projects that going towards capital improvement had merit, he asked them to review to see what could be done differently about the rate increases.
“The challenge we have with setting the rates is that we will be deficit next year to almost one million dollars,” Regier said. “That’s why the increases are set to help with that.”
Any grants the city receives can help to bring the rates down and they will be evaluated each year. Regier said they were only trying to be conservative enough to cover themselves, because the numbers could always go down.
Council passed the first ordinance to amend the code of laws providing for an increase in sanitation fees that was discussed during their work sessions earlier this year. Residential mobile cart fees will increase from $7 per month to $10 per month.
For six cubic yard commercial containers, the monthly fees will increase from $20 to $23. Eight cubic yard containers will increase from $22 to $25.
This increase alone will generate $138,713, Senn said.
The Parks, Recreation and Tourism Department needs the flexibility to charge fees tailored to specific arts programs that will be offered in the upcoming fiscal year, so council modified section 12-3 pertaining to fees allowing them to determine cost per student more accurately.
It would also allow special discounts for city residents participating in the program.
Senn said that Piedmont Technical College and Newberry College had both expressed a strong interest in partnering with the city to offer high quality art programs to both students and the general public.
During the dedication ceremony at Vincent Street Park, Senn said several people commented that the park should be named for Dr. Julian E. Grant. After consideration, council approved renaming Vincent Street Park to Dr. Julian E. Grant Park. Assistant City Manager Matt DeWitt said the wayfinding signage was a bit behind schedule, but that a sign would be made identifying the park’s new name.
• Hearing no opposition during the public hearing, council approved the first reading to adopt the budget for fiscal year 2014-2015.
• Council approved a request for out-of-city water services to 78 Hawkins Road. The property owner agreed to execute an annexation covenant, indicating a willingness to annex if the property became contiguous to city limits.
• Fire Chief Keith Minick informed city council that ISO (insurance service offices) had conducted an inspection of their fire suppression system, with results showing that Newberry now has a Class 2 insurance classification. Minick said that they were one out of 40 departments in South Carolina that had received a Class 2 rating.
“We have had a Class 3 for many years, so It’s exciting to now be at a Class 2,” Minick said. “We still have work to do to maintain that.”
They will be reevaluated in about four years.