HAMLET — During their budget workshop Tuesday afternoon, City Council members will consider modifying the way residents are charged for water, a change likely to lower some bills and raise others moderately.
City Manager Jonathan Blanton will propose dropping the current billing method because it’s outdated, and because it forces some customers to pay for water they don’t use. Currently, all customers pay a base charge of $21 monthly, for which they are allotted the use of 25,000 gallons.
“Very few (cities) bill that way anymore,” Blanton said Friday. Instead, most charge a base amount to cover the costs of water infrastructure and delivery, and then charge for the amount of water used.
The regional Lumber River Council of Governments has advised Hamlet that it should charge a $33 base fee, plus $5 per 1,000 gallons of water used — “but there’s no way we can do that,” Blanton said, especially because the town hasn’t imposed a rate change since 2008, when it boosted the base rate from $11 to $21.
“I would like to see that $21 decrease,” Blanton said but did not recommend an amount. He also would like to see sewer rates change from the current $16 base fee, which allows the processing of 25,000 gallons of sewerage.
“It’s possible that some residents who use the least (water or sewer service) would see a drop,” Blanton said, estimating that those whose bills would rise would see no more than a 50-cent increase per month.
Hamlet is “so low” in what it charges that it has lost competition for some grants, Blanton has told council members. But a large increase — such as the one COG recommended — doesn’t sit well with council members, who say they’re concerned about people earning low incomes.
The water-rate change is only one proposal among many in an $8 million budget proposal that largely guarantees everything the council agreed to by consensus during their budget workshop March 2.
Highlights of the 2018-2019 budget proposal include:
Administration: $21,000 for a car for the performance of official tasks. “It’s in the draft,” Blanton said, “but it’s probably going to get cut.” Council members did not agree on the need for a new car during the budget workshop in March.
Fire Department: Financing for a used pickup firefighters would refurbish, and six air packs to replace outdated ones that don’t send out an alarm when a firefighter falls inside a blazing building. Chief Calvin White had asked for four air packs — at $6,800 apiece — but council consensus set the number he could order at six instead. The department already has seven — enough so that teams of firefighters can share as they rotate into and out of a fire — but Hamlet remains the only local department that does not have new air packs for all firefighters.
Parks and Recreation: $60,000 to repave the basketball courts at South Hamlet Park.
Police Department: One new Dodge police cruiser, the lease of four portable Tsunami cameras to monitor crowds during city events ($24,000) and additional money for a narcotics officer ($48,000). The amount for the narcotics officer might not result in the hiring of an officer, Blanton said. Instead, the city could present an existing officer with additional duties and add to his or her salary.
Public Works: $39,000 for a truck to pair with the leaf-and-limb grinder, and $26,500 for a truck for the water-distribution division. Public Works Director Billy Stubbs commonly looks for bargain used trucks at government auctions.
Blanton and Finance Director Jill Dinkins did not include higher employee salaries in the proposed budget nor one to increase property taxes, which stand at 66 cents per $100,000 of assessed valuation — the highest rate for any city in Richmond County.
Direction on a potential pay raise would come from the council, Blanton said. Last year, after some discussion, council members agreed on 2 percent raises.
The bottom line for the proposed 2018-19 budget is $8,246, 575, which Blanton said he expected to drop. It would necessitate taking $178,000 from budget reserves, in addition to the $526,000 the council took out last year to make budget.
“I’d love to stay below eight (million),” Blanton said, “but (the cost for) everything’s on the rise.”
Two bright spots: This will be the first full sales tax year for the Dairy Queen, and mark the opening of La Cabana and Jerry’s Diner. Sales taxes from Hamlet’s ABC store also rose at least $10,000 to $40,000 last year and may go even higher this year, Blanton said.
“Police (also) have done really well with seizures” related to criminal charges, Blanton said. In fiscal 2017, he said, such seizures resulted in more than $12,000 in income.
Mayor Bill Bayless was in City Hall on Friday but had not yet seen the budget. Still, he said, he expected it to be spot on because Dinkins “always gets it right on the money.”
Reach Christine Carroll at 910-817-2673 or [email protected]