At the end of 2017, members of Middletown City Council won’t be able to say City Manager Doug Adkins didn’t warn them it was going to be a difficult year.
He told them just that this week during a budget presentation, where he also proposed to increase sewer rates by 15 percent; water rates by 7.5 percent; and garbage/recycling charges by 5.3 percent.
Adkins, who went on vacation after offering Tuesday’s budget presentation, was unavailable to say whether he also still recommends the streetlight assessment he suggested during January’s council retreat as a way to repair Middletown’s crumbling streets, and if so, in what amount.
“Next year is honestly probably going to be the hardest year for many of you that you’ve ever been on council,” Adkins predicted. “I’m going to throw a lot of stuff at you. We’re going to be out in the public a lot, talking to people. You’re going to hear a lot of discussion, you’re going to hear a lot of differing views.”
He added: “We’re going to ask you to make policy decisions to carry us forward the next several years.”
Among things that could lead to difficult discussions, he said, are the heroin epidemic; policy changes suggested by the city’s housing study, now underway; implementation of the in-progress Downtown Master Plan; suggestions from a Citywide Transportation Study, to be conducted next year; possible upgrades to city recreation activities; “healthy living initiatives,” including health, nutrition, food deserts and financial literacy; and whether to more directly help the school district with kindergarten readiness, graduation rates and other issues.
Adkins said he hopes to have the budget approved by council’s Nov. 15 meeting, with a first reading of the budget at the Nov. 1 meeting and the second on the 15th.
“That gives you approximately 45 days to look through the full budget that I dropped off to you all,” he said.
Adkins offered a 40-minute presentation with computer visuals covering all the city’s budget except for the portions dealing with public safety forces. Afterward, council members asked no questions.
Adkins said the 15 percent sewer increase and 7.5 percent water hike are “consistent with what we’ve been talking about with the long-term control plan projections” that are being negotiated with environmental regulators and the proposed replacement of water and sewer lines.
“This is not raising to just take money,” he said. “We have projects scheduled to use that money, and continue to upgrade our water and sewer infrastructure. And again, the whole idea behind this was to increase more now, over the next few years, so when the larger expenses for the long-term control plan came, we weren’t making huge, 20-, 30-, 40-percent increases down the road. We could spread them out over time, get the benefit of having them now.”
The trash/recycling fee, now $14.25 per month, should rise to $15, he suggested to council, because environmental regulators are requiring additional methane monitoring at the city’s landfill.
The typical residential sewer bill is $28.15 per sewer, based on use of 600 cubic feet of water per month, and that would rise about $4.22 per month. The typical residential water rate would climb from $20.60 per month by about $1.55.
Mayor Larry Mulligan Jr., asked about his support of the proposed rate increases, said, “Trash collection and sewer increases are driven by compliance with EPA requirements and expected costs,” and further noted: “There are also some components for required maintenance in water as well.”
Among major budget points:
- A 1.5 percent cost-of-living increase to all employees in 2017, with no performance-based incentives
- Income-tax revenue is expected to climb 3.2 percent
- Health-insurance costs will rise 5.8 percent next year for city employees
- Excluding public-safety costs, the city’s budget will climb by $394,434, or 4.6 percent, with gains coming in the areas of economic development (30.2 percent); information systems (23.2 percent); community revitalization (17.1 percent); law department (7.1 percent); city manager (6.5 percent); and finance department (1.1 percent).
- Adkins wants to hire an animal-control officer for the first time in about eight years.
Asked overall about his support for the budget proposal, Mulligan said: “I think we need to carefully consider the budget proposal and see how it lines up with the sustainable model we’ve been working toward for the city for years coming out of the recession.”