Despite acknowledging that the City of Aiken has a 10 percent revenue shortfall, City Council tabled a vote to raise water and sewer rates for a later work session.
At Council's annual Horizons Retreat at the end of January, City staff reported that due to last summer's rain, the City's water and sewer account revenues are projected to be 10 percent less than budgeted.
City staff budgeted for residents to use a certain amount of water based on 2012, but because of the surplus of rain, residents did not consume as much water as initially expected. Therefore the City's revenues are projected to be less than in past years.
“It's becoming very obvious to us (City staff) that we aren't able to save as much money as we have budgeted in the past to pay for bills,” City Manager Richard Pearce said. “We need to look at inflation rates every year instead of every budget year.”
Otherwise known as the enterprise fund, the water and sewer fund is supposed to be “self funding,” but Council reported the City is in the process of borrowing money from its general fund to keep projects going because of a lack of revenue. Water and sewer fees help fund projects under the utility budget, which include projects such as the Silver Bluff water treatment plant and the replacement of water meters.
But even with a 10 percent rate increase, revenues would likely still fall short, said Director of Finance Kim Abney.
“We are not meeting the budget (ended June 2013) to the tune of $700,000,” Abney said. “... Even if you increase by 10 percent and building that in the remaining three months, we're still short about $557,170.”
A 10 percent increase in the cost of water and sewer would raise an average monthly bill of $45 by $4.50.
Council did raise rates two years ago by 8 percent. However, Council member Reggie Ebner said, the City needs look at inflation rates every year.
“... If you look at statistics in the last five to six years, we should be looking at rates the first week in February every year and we haven't done that,” Ebner said. “... We need to look at it again 12 months from now ... Unless a miracle happens, we will have to raise rates at least at a minimum of what inflation is.”
Maayan Schechter is the city beat reporter with Aiken Standard. An Atlanta native, she has a mass communications-journalism degree from the University of North Carolina Asheville. Follow her on Twitter @MaayanSchechter.