By David Hazledine
MILFORD — Town Council’s monthly public meeting held Tuesday, Oct. 12, saw the council again grappling with the question of how to raise water and wastewater rates.
Council President Doug Ruch summed up the situation, stating, “Obviously we need to raise rates enough to cover operating expenses.”
Town Clerk Tricia Gall reviewed an early draft of an LWG CPAs and Advisors study of Milford water and wastewater rates, which found the town’s average rates were, on average, lower than surrounding towns. For example, Milford’s average user is paying $24.50 for water compared to $49 for Etna Green, though it has far fewer users. The Middlebury average is $32.98 for water.
The question facing the council moving forward will be how much to raise rates and whether or not to “pay as we go,” said Gall, or acquire a million-dollar bond, which would increase the rate still further.
While Councilman Ken Long agreed a bond issuance may not be the best option, he also expressed dissatisfaction with the council’s recent history of making minimum increases. “That’s what got us to this point. We can’t just keep continually squeaking by.” He also cited a 15 year period when the council “didn’t keep rates where they needed to be.”
In 2019, a study by consulting firm Baker Tilly recommended raising wastewater rates to $50, but the council chose instead to stop at $46.50. LWG’s study recommends a $52.56 average rate. With a bond issuance, the rate would be $60.70.
Long also pointed to Milford’s aging infrastructure. “We have issues underground that aren’t going to go away.”
Ruch, on the other hand, said he prefers staying with the “minimum increase,” which he hopes will be bolstered by the future increase in users. Long likened this approach to “spinning a roulette wheel … we can’t hope we’re suddenly going to have 1,000 more users.”
Gall said LWG will attend future meetings to address specific questions.
The following items were also on the Oct. 12 meeting agenda:
The council voted to hire LWG to analyze the annexation of roughly 30 homes in the North Park subdivision for a cost not to exceed $6,250. Following the analysis, public hearings will be held on the annexation.
Milford Town Council also adopted its 2022 budget. The budget is $2,252,772 with an adopted tax levy of $683,770. The adopted tax rate is 1.1940. The estimated budget is a $20,599 increase over 2021.
The budget estimates for town funds are as follows: casino/riverboat, $15,000; rainy day, $30,000; general, $934,321; local road and street, $50,000; motor vehicle/highway, $438,451; cumulative capital (cigarette tax), $45,000; cumulative cap (rate) 100,000; cumulative capital development, $100,000; Economic Development Income Tax CEDIT, $200,000; redevelopment capital, $240,000; cumulative sewer, $100,000.
The council voted to adopt an incentive program developed by Kosciusko Economic Development Corporation, which allows KEDCO to direct the awarding of abatements and other incentives to local businesses. The approval comes after language specifying Milford has the final say was added. Long was the sole naysayer, explaining he wanted to wait for other towns to join the program.
Long was more amenable to the Hoosier End Legacy Program allowing Indiana Office of Community and Rural Affairs to help administer American Rescue Plan Act funds. Language also ensures Milford’s financial commitment “remains in the community.” Gall explained HELP gives the town a better chance of getting grants.
The council also voted to match up to $9,000 with OCRA on a master utilities study conducted by Michiana Area Council of Governments.
Milford employees will keep the same Anthem health insurance plan; however, the renewal comes with a 17% increase. Lisa Frazzetta-Manning of Frazzetta Financial Strategies said the renewal was the best option with rates going up across the board. Gall noted the town budgeted for an increase of 15%, so the change was not unexpected.
During departmental reports, the council voted to allow Milford Volunteer Fire Department to begin the process of replacing its 2003 pumper truck. The cost is projected to be roughly $475,000.
The council also voted to pay the $3,000 installation fee for a new interrogation room in Milford Town Hall, which will also serve other area departments. Kosciusko County will pick up the $10,559 equipment cost.
Chief Derek Kreider also requested residents drive carefully during Halloween trick-or-treating, which will take place from 6-8 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 30. Halloween sees an increased influx of people into the community. “Drive slower than normal and pay extra attention.”
During wastewater reports, the council accepted a $13,800 quote from Custom Fencing to provide new fencing around Milford’s wastewater treatment plant.
The council also approved repairs to a clarifier to be performed by Brad Robinson at a cost not to exceed $14,190.
Utilities Superintendent Steven Marquart reminded residents of leaf collection season. Leaves should be left in long, narrow piles along the street, away from objects like mailboxes or vehicles and free of any debris.
The council approved $1,271.88 for the repair of a dent to the town’s 2020 pickup truck.
The council tabled discussion of water fluoridation until more research could be conducted.
Milford will be flushing hydrants on Oct. 13 and 14, so residents may see a slight discoloration, which should clear up.
Milford Town Council will hold its next public meeting at 7 p.m., Monday, Nov. 9.