Conover plans water, sewer, landfill cost increases

Taxes may not be increasing in Conover, but city residents could see an increase in their water, sewer and landfill expenses.

“We’ve seen a huge increase in costs,” said Conover City Manager Donald Duncan Jr., adding most of the increase is coming in energy costs.

“When fuel costs go up, everything goes up.”

Duncan said rising fuel and energy costs are the main reason why water and sewer customers will an increase. According to the 2011-12 proposed budget, there will be a $1.69 increase for every 1,000 gallons of water used and another $3.12 increase for $1,000 gallons of sewer used.

For example, a family of four with an average use of 3,000 gallons of water and sewer will see a total increase of $2.79 on their monthly bill or $33.48 annually.

“That’s our biggest hit right now,” Duncan said, adding, again, that fuel costs increase the price of everything else, such as copper, which is used on water meters.

City residents who have trash pickup will see costs jump $6 to $11 per month, instead of $5 per month.

The increases, if approved, will be on city residents’ utility bills.

Residents who use clear plastic bags from the city for debris and landscaping clean up will not have this option in the future. Duncan said the city spends $15,000 a year on plastic bags for residents; therefore, the city will not purchase any more bags starting July 1.

Duncan said once the bags stored at city hall are distributed, no more will be purchased.

While citizens see increases, Conover is cutting its expenses.

Conover’s capital purchases are expected to be low in the coming budget year.

“We are not making purchases,” Duncan said. “We aren’t getting anything new and are trying to stretch it out even if a few years have passed in (an item’s) life cycle.”

To continue to expense cuts, Duncan said the city is also going to leave open some currently vacant city positions, including a deputy clerk assistant and an assistant planner. Duncan said Conover is not planning any lay-offs.

Duncan said Conover will also cut supply and travel expenses. He said city staff will only travel for training required to maintain certification.

Fire inspection fees, which were introduced in Conover a year ago, will increase. Duncan said a level three inspection, which is for small businesses every three years will be $65; level two assembly buildings, such as schools and churches, for every two years will be $85; and level one large industrial facilities, which are once a year inspections, will be $100. The increase is equivalent to $22 a year for small businesses and $300 a year for large industrial facilities.

Currently, Conover Fire Department charges $50 per inspection.

Duncan said funds collected from fire inspection fees go toward fire education in Conover.

“It’s been a tough one,” Duncan said. “It says a lot about City Council and staff to come together and work through hard financial times. It isn’t a pleasant time to be in government. Conover is in the positive and doesn’t have a dramatic cut (in its 2011-12 budget).”

A future look

During 2010-11, Conover endured a negative impact from Catawba County’s revaluation, which according to Duncan, was a 20 percent loss in industrial property value.

“That was a huge hit for us,” Duncan said.

Because of the industrial property value loss, he said residents will start to see a shift in property values. Duncan said customers may see an increase in property taxes by 2013. But for the 2011-12 budget year, Conover City Council does not plan to increase taxes.

Even though Conover has industrial facilities marked on its property map, Duncan said those buildings are sitting idle or being used for warehouse space. Because of the industrial shift in the city, the property value of those industrial buildings decreased.

City Council works closely with plans for a Multijurisdictional Park and Manufacturing Solutions Center, which plans to open in Conover Station in 2012, to help bring more jobs to the city.

“We want to create a new industrial economy,” Duncan said.

But the “fruits” of those partnerships won’t be seen until the future, possibly up to 10 years from now, Duncan said.

"Looking into the future, Conover along with our Economic Development Corporation continues to work diligently attracting more investment into the community," said Conover Mayor Lee Moritz Jr.

In addition to striving to bring more industry and jobs to Conover, City Council and staff also look at other budget challenges ahead, such as the N.C. Article 44 "Hold Harmless" funds.

These funds are expected to expire for the 2012-13 budget year. Duncan said the funds started being dispersed after Gov. Mike Easley was withholding funds from local governments. Duncan said after local governments sued the governor and won, the funds became part of the "Hold Harmless" sales tax to offset what was withheld.

Moritz said Article 44 funds equal 1.95 cent per 100 on Conover's current tax rate.

A public hearing on the 2011-12 proposed budget will be at 2 p.m. Tuesday at Conover City Hall. The public is invited to attend. To review the city's proposed budget, visit city hall before 2 p.m. Tuesday and request to see a copy.