Water, sewer increases help fund Claremont’s 5-year plan

Sewer and water rates will increase in Claremont next year, but city officials said the rate hikes will help fund the city’s long-term infrastructure needs.

“Our treatment facilities are aging in their capacities, and we want to be able to handle the additional capacity generated,” said Claremont Mayor David Morrow. “It’s also going to help us in what our total capital expenditure and goals will require in the future.”

The rate changes will also cover increased operational costs to the city and will cost the average customer $3 to $4 more on their bill, said Claremont City Manager Doug Barrick.

Despite the increased water and sewer rates, Claremont’s property tax will remain at 46 cents per $100 of valuation for the sixth year in a row, Barrick said.

Barrick said the city worked with the North Carolina Rural Water Association on a water and sewer rate study to determine the most feasible way to change rates. He said the new rate structure will account for larger users to pay a more accurate share of the system needs.

“The proposed budget also raises the tap and capacity fees to help offset the true capital costs of adding new users to the system,” Barrick said in his budget message. “While these increases are much more than in past years, the water and sewer fund remains a strong competitor in the regional market. Our rates and fees are just now coming in line with other local water and sewer systems.”

Barrick said the main goal of the proposed fiscal year 2011-12 budget was to spend conservatively and plan for the future.

“We looked at the budget from year to year, but wanted to take a holistic approach and say, ‘What does the city need over the next five years?’” Barrick said.

The recommended five-year capital improvement plan for the general fund and water and sewer fund includes vehicle replacements, infrastructure maintenance, park improvements and technology upgrades, among other things.

"We are spanning the whole spectrum of what the city does,” Barrick said. “Historically, it was kind of a knee-jerk reaction to what we needed, but what we want to do now is prioritize what we need over a five-year period.”

Morrow agreed.

“Our long-range plans include this careful spending, however, we plan to make improvements to our infrastructure and have been able to do this without raising our property tax,” Morrow said. “One thing that we did keep to the forefront at our budget retreat was to plan for the next five years what this budget and upcoming budgets will require.”

The city is not cutting any positions this year, but will see a total budget reduction of about 5.8 percent, Barrick said. The city is actually offering a raise pool for employees for the first time in “a few years.”

“Most of our employees haven’t had a raise since 2009, and they’ve been asked to do more with less,” Barrick said.

Barrick added that some citizens may oppose the raises, but said, “I can’t just bring in Joe Blow off the street. It’s an investment.”

The city also plans on investing in information technology during the next five years, with plans to incorporate a new interactive website.

Barrick said the website will allow residents to use a “citizen voice” tab to express comments, concerns or opinions in a “live” way.

A public hearing about the budget is scheduled for June 6 at 7 p.m. in Claremont City Hall.

Morrow said city council members were “happy” with the budget.

“All council members as a majority certainly went along with the budget our city manager prepared,” Morrow said. “It was very precise, very accurate, and quite frankly, was one of the most organized and detailed budgets that we’ve had in recent years.”