The Greene County Sanitary Engineering Department is going back to the drawing board and reworking its budget for the year after commissioners demanded the department cut costs.
County commissioners would like to see the sanitary engineering department’s $31 million budget reduced by $500,000, said Bob Glaser, a commissioner.
“That’s an appropriate amount we feel comfortable with for reducing that budget without a major rate increase,” Glaser said. “That doesn’t mean we won’t have one, but we’re trying our best not to have one in 2013.”
The department’s budget is funded through user fees and charges, however it must be approved by county commissioners.
Sanitary sewer and water debt payments are the department’s largest expense and are projected to grow over the next three years, according to county sanitary engineering department data.
Annual water fund debt payments grew about 7.14 percent between 2008 and 2012 from $3.9 million to $4.1 million. These payments are projected to grow another 5.9 percent in 2016 to $4.4 million.
The sewer fund is following a similar path. Annual debt payments grew 38.2 percent between 2008 and 2012 and are projected to increase another 4.6 percent to $13.3 million by 2016.
“The best thing for us to do is, if we can, carefully plan and avoid a lot of these large future debt issuances,” said Ron Volkerding the Greene County Sanitary Engineering director. “We need to start paying our debt down faster than we add it on. We are really working hard to get that under control.”
Since 2010, the sanitary engineering department has been paying on $55 million in sewer and $13 million in water projects, according to officials.
“We’re looking at the bonds to restructure them,” said Tom Koogler, a county commissioner.
While debt payments are expected to increase, revenues from service charges, tap-in fees and connection charges are expected to remain relatively flat compared to 2012.
The county averages about 200 new sewer and water connections per year — a number that is driven by the construction industry.
Last year, sewer connection charge revenues grew 7.69 percent from $747,329 in 2011 to $804,832. Water connection charge revenues grew 21.98 percent from $85,145 in 2011 to $103,861.
Volkerding attributed the growth to a new apartment complex and new commercial properties. He does not expect similar construction projects this year.
“Most of what we’re seeing right now is single family home construction,” he said.
Sewer connection charges are expected to dip 13 percent and water connection charges are expected to drop by 42 percent.
For similar reasons, inspection fees for new water and sewer lines are expected to drop as well, Volkerding said.
“Development work is still slow compared to what it used to be so we’re going to be conservative in our estimates,” Volkerding said.
With declining revenue projections, county commissioners are considering raising water and sewer rates, however they have also ordered the department to scale back on personnel costs.
Layoffs are not being considered. The commissioners honed in on six vacant positions included in the budget. These current vacancies, along with previous unfilled positions, have contributed to a $505,193 projected increase for salaries.
County commissioner Tom Koogler suggested the department plan on filling only three of the vacant positions for now.
“We spent less than we had budgeted in 2012 because we have vacancies,” Volkerding said.
The sanitary engineering department has 78 water and sewer employees – a number that has decreased each year from the 134 employees reported in 1998.
“We’re happy to work with them (commissioners) to evaluate our operations and improve costs.” Volkerding said. “If we can find a better way to do it we will.”