Abby rules out water, sewer hikes for 2020
Abbotsford residents shouldn’t have to worry about paying more for water and sewer — at least in the near future — based on conversations at Monday’s city council meeting.
City officials ruled out the possibility of rate hikes for the remainder of 2020 after reviewing information from the Public Service Commission and the city’s sewer utility budget. Rate hikes were looked at based on advice from the city’s auditors, who recently presented the council with a 2019 audit report.
When it comes to water rates, which must be approved by the PSC, city administrator Dan Grady said Abbotsford does not qualify for a simplified 3 percent increase due to how much the money the utility is bringing in every year.
“Honestly, I don’t think we’re going to qualify for awhile,” he told the council, based on the income and expense numbers reported to the PSC.
Utility operator Josh Soyk said the utility’s operating revenue is “too high,” according to the PSC’s formula to qualify for even a small rate increase.
“We’re sitting good on the water side,” he said.
Sewer rates, which can be increased by the city council without PSC approval, also appear to be on track to cover most operational expenses after a 7 percent hike went into effect last year. When those rates were approved in May of 2019, city officials talked about possibly having to raise them again after six months to erase an ongoing deficit.
According to a spreadsheet prepared by Grady showing the first seven months of this year’s revenues and expenses, the utility is projected to be OK for 2021.
“The bottom line is, we’re looking at a $95,000 surplus —without accounting for depreciation,” he said. “Depreciation is going to knock that into the negative.”
Depreciation is the number used to account for the declining value of equipment over time, and is used to encourage cities to set aside money every year for replacing expensive infrastructure.
Given these projections, Soyk recommended the council hold off on any further rate increases until at least 2021.
“I would play it out this year, and see how our budget looks for the whole year,” he said.
Soyk noted that revenues are projected to drop by $57,000 compared to 2019, but expenses are slated to drop by even more, about $83,000.
Ald. Brent Faber said he would like to see numbers from past years just for the sake of comparison. Mayor Lori Voss agreed.
“We should have something to compare it to,” she said.
Grady noted that a number of factors make this year unique, including the 7 percent rate increase and the addition of five new apartment buildings on the city’s north side, which adds more revenue than expenses to the utility.
The utility is also paying for one less employee, and more of Soyk’s wages are now being paid out of the water utility, he noted.
“So, we’re moving in the right direction?” asked Ald. Mason Rachu.
“Yes, that is correct,” Grady said.
_ The council voted 7-1, with Ald. Roger Weideman absent, to approve the Central Fire and EMS District’s 2021, which calls for a $25,662 reduction in the city’s annual contribution to the district. Ald. Frankie Soto voted no, citing the fact that he still had questions about some of the line items in the district’s budget.
In a related matter, the council also voted to create a special savings account for future firefighting and ambulance equipment purchases that may require a contribution from the city that goes beyond what it pays in annual district dues.
Ald. Jim Weix, who represents the city on the fire board, said the city could put the $25,000 in savings on next year’s dues into the account, with the goal of having money aside when it comes time to buy a new fire truck. At the same time, he said the city will retain control of the money and use it for other purposes if needed.
“If we get hard up, we can always tap into it,” he said.
_ Duane Broeske asked the council if the city could waive the garbage collection fees for an unoccupied house he owns at 308 N. First St., saying the monthly fee was “like throwing $50 into the wind and not receiving anything.”
Grady said waiving his fee could open “a giant can of worms” for the city, but the council agreed to bring it up with a representative of Advanced Disposal who is slated to speak at a meeting about ordering smaller-sized carts.
_ The council took no action on a proposed conditional use permit for the former Reis & Reis office at 406 E. Spruce St. Mayor Voss said the man who applied for the permit, Mike Hryndej, does not actually own the building.
_ DPW Craig Stuttgen said his crew has replaced all of the curb stops along West Spruce Street west of the railroad tracks while Melvin Companies has been replacing storm sewer on that stretch. He said the project is currently under budget but a little behind schedule.
Project engineer Dan Borchardt said he spoke to Melvin about emptying the dumpsters in the construction zone more frequently due to all of the refuse that is accumulating them.
_ The council approved a final request of roughly $5,000 from Haas Sons for work done on First Avenue. Another pay request from Haas, for $136,888, was approved for the extension of Opportunity Drive to the west into land slated for a new industrial park.
_ The council approved a pair of pay requests from Melvin Companies for work done on West Spruce Street, including $28,160 for the Safe Routes to School portion of the project and $91,500 for the storm sewer replacement portion.
_ The council approved a $1,200 addition to the city’s contract with Cedar Corporation, which was hired last year to provide environmental oversight of the city’s old landfill. The extra $1,200 is for a report required by the Wisconsin DNR every five years, the cost of which was not included in the city’s $4,950 contract with Cedar Corporation.
_ The council approved a raze order for a dilapidated garage at 309 N. Second. St., as recommended by the planning commission. Grady noted that the owner, Leonard Riehle, had already come in to get a permit for razing the garage.
_ To deal with several discrepancies in the city’s ordinance book, allegedly created by attorney Alan Harvey, the council agreed to start reviewing the book section by section at its next meeting.
_ While reviewing the city’s year-todate expenditures, council members pointed out several numbers that were way out of whack, including a line item in the library budget that was at 1,431 percent of it budgeted amount for 2020.
“Somehow we have to get numbers that mean something,” said Ald. Dennis Kramer.
Grady said he would work with city’s accounting program, CIVICS, to try and correct any problems with the percentages for the next report.