By DAVID HAZLEDINE
On June 23, members of the Milford Town Council met with Steven Marquart, street and utilities superintendent, to develop a tentative budget for 2021. It was soon clear, however, his water budget will require significant cutting due to lower than expected revenue from water billing.
Marquart’s projected water budget came in at roughly $555,467, and included $175,000 for capital improvements, $44,000 for new equipment and $47,000 for professional services.
However, according to Town Clerk Tricia Gall, his income for water will only be $218,000. The low receipts are the result of business closures and COVID-19 lockdowns.
While the council agreed it was necessary for Marquart to include everything he thought the department needed into the discussions, members also agreed President Doug Ruch’s assertion, “We have to get this water thing on an even keel.”
To that end, members slashed capital improvements, new equipment and professional services in the hopes of being able to use alternative funds at a later date.
Marquart’s budgets for roads and parks were less problematic, with roads at $488,586, a 6% increase from 2020, and parks at $42,983, which was nearly $11,000 lower than 2020.
Milford Town Council members and department heads continued 2021 budget workshops in the community building on June 24. Much of Wednesday evening’s session was spent trimming the wastewater budget.
Mark Brubaker, wastewater plant operator, presented an initial budget of $623,719, a 7% decrease from 2019. However, according to Clerk/Treasurer Tricia Gall, estimated wastewater income for 2020 is roughly $450,000, leaving an approximately $174,000 shortfall.
Members did find ways to save money. The plant’s yearly Northern Indiana Public Service Company budget had been set at $100,000, but Brubaker expects to shut down sections of the plant due to lower flow. Analysis of 2020 expenditures also showed budgets for professional services, repair/maintenance and capital improvements could all be cut. Nevertheless, the budget remains $141,000 short of expected revenue, making future rate hikes a very real possibility.
President Doug Ruch suggested gathering quotes for rate studies; however, as the most recent study is less than two years old, it may still prove useful, according to Gall.
The council will also be looking to other funds to help with water and wastewater shortfalls, but they, too, are expected to be diminished.
The riverboat fund, for example, one of the few without use restrictions, will be far smaller as a result of casino closures during the pandemic. Gall budgeted $15,000 from riverboat, down from $30,000 in 2020. The fund currently holds $39,000.
County economic development income tax, which holds a current balance of $788,432, was raised from $150,000 in 2020 to $200,000 in the event it is needed for water and wastewater. Other funds, totalling approximately $480,000 for 2021, remained unchanged from 2020 levels.
Milford Volunteer Fire Department Chief Todd Haines presented a 2021 budget of $77,000, a 2.5% increase. The fire department is also funded by Van Buren and Jefferson townships, with Milford and Van Buren each paying $31,325.