At a meeting last week, the Walnut Cove Board of Commissioners agreed to implement a temporary discount on tap fees in hopes that more people will hook up to the town’s water and sewer system by June 30.
Town Manager Byron Ellis said employees went over the figures and determined that it costs the town about $400 to set up water or sewer service. As long as the discount did not dip below that amount, the town could at least break even.
“The whole goal is to get these people on the system,” said Ellis.
The town ordinance requires that all in-town businesses and residences be tied in to the system by 2015, and Ellis is afraid if everyone waits until the last minute to hook up, this will cost the town extra money. Or some people may refuse to hook up and could face being charged with misdemeanors.
At this time, all of those who are required to be tied in by 2015 and have not done so yet are charged an availability fee equal to what their minimum bill would be. According to information provided in the agenda packet, there are 34 customers paying water availability fees at this time, 87 paying sewer availability fees and 18 availability customers with past due accounts.
Ellis pointed out that if the discount is offered to outside customers, too, “that’s where you make your money.” He said, “I just think it’s good all the way around.”
At an earlier meeting, Commissioner Kim Lewis said she did not like the idea of waiving the fee altogether since it would not seem fair to those who had already paid the full fee. Mayor Lynn Lewis said he liked Ellis’ idea of at least breaking even.
Ellis said he thought customers needed to be paid up on their availability bill in order to be eligible. Commissioner Sharon Conaway agreed. After running further calculations on the minimum and average water and sewer bills, Conaway said the $800 tap fee should really only be reduced by about $150.
The board voted unanimously to reduce the fee to $650 per tap until June 30, 2013. Commissioner Charles Mitchell then made a motion to open up the discount to outside customers, which Commissioner Lewis seconded. This was also approved.
Earlier in the meeting, a lengthy discussion about town budgeting led to a decision in favor of Christmas bonuses for town employees.
Ellis recommended the board approve a $400 Christmas bonus for full-time employees and a $200 bonus for part-time employees. The board has approved a bonus for town employees for several years.
Conaway said there was no money specifically set aside for it in the budget, so they needed to know how much it would be exactly. Mayor Lewis asked if enough was budgeted, and Ellis said yes. Conaway said Ellis was saying there was enough money in the total budget, but her question was which line the money would come from.
Conaway had come prepared with the town financials highlighted according to which lines could not be touched. Ellis provided a handout showing the town finances this year to date and a copy of the final approved budget. He said he did not have everything broken down line by line, because the town did not adopt a line item budget; it adopted a departmental budget. So far, Ellis said things are running on target and there is even a surplus of revenue. Conaway argued that the town was ahead because people paid property taxes early to take advantage of the August discount. She claimed the budget is front loaded. Ellis said the town is above what it was expecting according to this time last year.
Commissioner Lewis stepped in and said that Ellis is the man who manages the town, and he has the education and experience to do so. While acknowledging that Conaway has a background in accounting and that she and others in the town have managed large budgets as well, Commissioner Lewis said of Ellis, “I want this man to be the one to manage the budgets.” Speaking to Conaway, Lewis said, “I think the questions you bring forth are interesting, and they shed some light on things … but I trust Byron and when he says he looks at the budget on a daily basis, he does.”
Ellis said as a disclaimer that there is always a possibility that some emergency will happen to blow the budget out of the water. He said, “But I think we’re in good shape financially.”
Commissioners Mitchell and Lewis voted in favor of the bonus, while commissioners Conaway and Elwood Mabe voted against. The mayor broke the tie “in favor of the town manager,” saying if Ellis said the money was there then he believed it was.
The next regular Walnut Cove Board of Commissioners meeting will be held Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2013, at the Walnut Cove Senior Center at 7 p.m.