New London residents unhappy with sewer rate increase

By Karyn Spory, Mt. Pleasant News


NEW LONDON ? New London residents expressed their displeasure with the new sewer rates during the city council meeting on Tuesday night.

Last month, the council approved the first reading of an ordinance that would increase the city?s sewer rates to $34 for the first 1,500 gallons. From there, residents would be charged $11.50 per gallon for the next 3.5000 gallons. The next 5,000 gallons would run $10.50 per gallon; and $9.50 for the next 5,000 gallons. Consumers using an additional 5,000 gallons would pay $8.50 per gallon and anything additional would be $5.50 per gallon.

During open forum, resident Ben Nelson addressed the council concerning the sewer rates. Nelson said since his family moved to New London in 2012, the sewer rates have continually increased. ?When is the utility stuff going to stop going up? It?s becoming hard to afford,? he said. ?We planned to be here for the rest of our lives, to raise our kids here, but we?ve questioned moving because of this.?

The last time the city council raised sewer rates was in 2014. At that time, the minimum change was $31.50 a month and that covered up to 1,500 gallons. After that, charges are as follows:

1,501 ? 5,000 gallons- $11 per gallon

5,001 ? 10,000 gallons- $10 per gallon

10,001 ? 15,000 gallons ? $9 per gallon

15,001 ? 20,000 gallons- $8 per gallon

20,0001 gallons and above ? $5 per gallon

Chance Davis, wife of city council member Tom Davis, said she hoped the council would have a third reading of the proposed ordinance so other residents could come and speak out against it. ?A lot of people could not make tonight due to the weather. I hope there would be a third reading so they could show up and voice opinion,? she said.

Mrs. Davis added that she hoped the council would take into consideration the amount of elderly residents on fixed incomes in New London. ?We have a lot of elderly in our community on a fixed income and they can?t make it now,? she said.

Mrs. Davis suggested using other sources of funding to circumvent the sewer rate increase.

Council member Scott Campbell asked if taking money from one of the city?s CDs would help make up the shortfall, and if so would that only be a temporary fix.

City Clerk Kasi Howard said it would only be a temporary fix. The city currently is paying $350,000 annually in two loan payments for improvements to the Waste Water Treatment Plant and the city?s sewer system. According to the loan agreement, the city must keep 10 percent of what it pays in loans in excess. That means the city must have $35,000 on hand each year. With the current sewer rates, it?s difficult to have that excess money on hand.

?I say we show the people (residents) relief and worry about this next year,? said council member Tom Davis before suggesting using funds that would come in from Dollar General?s property tax to make up the difference.

Howard said it wouldn?t be that easy. ?Property taxes come in one big lump, they aren?t sectioned out unless it?s a TIF District (which Dollar General isn?t). Property tax funds go into the general fund, which goes to the police and fire departments, office library and park.?

Howard explained the city sometimes dips into money from the local-option sales tax to help fill out budgets for those departments. The rest of the local-option sales tax funds goes toward big capital projects.

?You?re just robbing from those other services,? she explained.

?We can?t just keep robbing from Peter to pay Paul,? added council man Dan Berner.

Miller and Campbell agreed.

The second reading of the ordinance was approved in a 4-1 vote. Davis cast the lone ?no? vote. The third and final reading of the ordinance will be on Tuesday, March 6, during the regularly scheduled city council meeting.

The ordinance also states that either on or before July 1 of each year the council may review the current rates and approve up to a 5 percent increase. Howard reiterated before the second reading was approved the 5 percent increase was not automatic and would not have to be done each year. The previous ordinance, implemented in 2014 also allowed the council to approve a 5 percent increase each year, but it was never done.