MILFORD — Rising costs, higher than expected interest rates and lower than expected receipts are among the factors keeping Milford’s wastewater utilities operating at a projected deficit of nearly $75,000 per year, according to Ross Hagen of Umbaugh and Associates, who presented the findings of a wastewater rate study to the Milford Town Council at its monthly public meeting, held Monday evening, Oct. 8.
The study proposed correcting the shortfall with a 16 percent increase in the wastewater rate paid by Milford residents, which translates to an additional $7 per month, bringing the cost of an average monthly usage of 4,000 gallons to $50.
Milford is currently paying debt service on bond loans for the construction of its wastewater plant and IDEM-mandated upgrades to the plant. In 2024, the amount decreases dramatically, from $165,000 to $95,000, when the old payments drop off. Also, the previous rate hike was phased-in, so the town has yet to fully realized its benefits.
The study also found for every $10,000 the town is able to pull from funding sources other than wastewater, the rate hike could be diminished by 2.2 percent.
With this in mind, Doug Ruch, council president, asked if $40,000 of local income tax and economic development funds, known as CEDIT, could be used to offset the $75,000 deficit until 2024, hypothetically reducing the monthly bill by around $3.
“A lot can change in five or six years,” Hagen responded. Also, as Joellen Free, town clerk/treasurer, reminded the council, CEDIT funds are regularly used for major projects. Recent examples include the water tower renovation and a much-needed, upcoming water line project.
The council decided to table the proposed rate hike vote until next month.
The council did vote to adopt the proposed 2019 budget, which has received much scrutiny at previous meetings, including its Sept. 10 hearing; however, it was the council’s most convoluted vote in recent memory.
Ruch abstained from the vote as a member of the Milford Fire Department. Then, council member Dan Cochran also announced he was abstaining. Cochran has voiced his opposition to the budget; however, because he believes in term limits and will not be on next year’s council, he said, “I don’t feel right voting no.”
Cochran opposed the budget’s 8 percent increase, which, he said, “The council did not present to the public in clear terms.” And, though he was in support of a school resource officer, he disagreed with the manner in which it was funded, by shifting pay from other departments where the SRO
This left only one voter, Bob Cockburn, a yes vote. Free, as clerk/treasurer, was only allowed to vote in the event of a tie. Therefore, Cochran rescinded his abstention and voted no, which allowed Free to break the tie by voting yes.
The 2019 tax levy is $608,243.
The vote provided a foreshadowing of the 2019 council, as Free is running unopposed for a council position. Trisha Gall is running unopposed for Free’s clerk/treasurer position.