MICRO — The town has raised water and sewer rates less than it planned to.
Last Thursday, Micro commissioners approved a budget that changed the water-rate structure for businesses and residents and increased sewer rates by 15 percent for businesses and 10 percent for residents.
Originally, commissioners proposed a 25-percent water and sewer increase for businesses and a 15 percent sewer increase for residents. But after outcry during a public hearing late last month, commissioners said they would try to find another way to shore up the water and sewer fund.
Micro needed to raise rates because its water and sewer department lost about $50,000 last year, and town leaders said they had already cut costs as much as possible. The state sent a letter recommending a rate increase. Until the fund is solvent, Micro can’t apply for state grants to repair its aging infrastructure, which dates back to the 1960s.
Micro’s problems also came from kicking the can down the road. Micro sends its sewage to Kenly, which charges Micro to treat it. Between 2009 and 2011, Kenly raised the rate it charges Micro 52 percent, from $4.92 per 1,000 gallons to $7.50 per 1,000 gallons. In the last two budget years, Micro raised its flat fee by $3 for both water and sewer, but this didn’t make up for Kenly’s increases.
“If we don’t pass this budget and get this stuff together, we’re not going to like the consequences,” said Mayor Jim Wiesner. “We’re going to be sitting here wondering what happened to Micro.”
The original rate-increase proposal would have raised about $35,000 extra. The new rate increases will raise about $23,000 extra.
Before: $23.35 for the first 2,000 gallons of water, $3 for each additional 1,000 gallons up to 5,000 and $2 per 1,000 gallons after 5,000.
After: $23.35 for the first 2,000 gallons. For anything more, $3 for each additional 1,000 gallons.
Before: For all in-town customers, including residents and businesses, a $14.35 flat fee and $7.61 per 1,000 gallons. For customers outside the town limits, a $16.85 flat fee and $7.90 per 1,000 gallons.
After: Residents in-town will pay a $15.78 flat fee and $8.37 per 1,000 gallons. Out-of-town households will pay an $18.53 flat fee and $8.69 per 1,000 gallons.
In-town businesses will pay a $16.50 flat fee and $8.75 per 1,000 gallons. Out-of-town businesses will pay a $19.37 fee and $9.08 per 1,000 gallons.
About 15 people came to last week’s meeting. Resident Kathy Reitzel asked town leaders how Micro’s problems became so severe.
“That’s something I don’t think happens in one budget cycle,” she said. “How did we get where we are in a 12-month period to where we have an insolvent fund that impacts our ability to apply for grants?”
Residents asked commissioners to consider their ideas, including raising rates significantly for out-of-town customers and sending Micro’s sewage to Selma, which pays the county to treat its sewage. Commissioner Johnny Dixon said it would cost about $1 million to move the pipes.
Another person in the audience suggested creating a committee of people to come up with solutions, an idea the mayor supported.
Micro pays Waste Management to collect its trash. Waste Management raised rates, so Micro raised rates in response.
Solid-waste collection increased from $9.54 a month to $9.73, recycling from $3.30 a month to $3.37 and the charge for an extra trash can from $5.05 to $5.15.
Micro spends about $2,500 a month on health insurance, paying all the premiums for two employees and two dependents.
Wiesner said he wanted to stop paying for dependents. He called for a vote. Dixon, a town employee, recused himself. Commissioners Timothy Earp and Donnie Holland voted to keep paying dependent health insurance.
Holland said town employees don’t make as much money as employees in nearby towns. Paying health insurance is one of the few benefits Micro can give its employees, he said.
If Micro cut health insurance, it would have to raise salaries to keep the employees, he said. Earp agreed.