Bethel looks for more revenue for its sewer budget
With sources of revenue drying up, Bethel officials are looking for ways to balance the town’s sewer budget.
That could mean more charges for at least some users.
Selectmen last week heard a budget presentation by Town Manager Jim Doar and Wastewater Treatment Superintendent Rob Gundersen.
“There’s nothing ever good about the sewer budget any more,” said Doar. “We raised the rates by 5 percent two years ago and we’re still looking at deficits.”
The system underwent an expansion in the 1990s in anticipation of a Bethel Station project that didn’t materialize, leaving users to fund the larger system.
There are 537 users in Bethel, and the proposed FY’14 budget is $1,723,965. Projected revenues are $1,706,276 (including grant funds for projects), leaving a gap of $17,689.
The difference can be made up through the interfund balance (undesignated surplus).
But that can’t go on forever, Doar said.
Add to that a raise request from Gundersen of 7.5 percent (to bring his and another employee’s pay up to the range of other comparable area treatment plants) and a $276,000 project proposed for FY’15 to replace the Bridge Street main.
The Bridge Street project, said Doar, could double the current sewer rate. The typical operating budget for the department is around $400,000, he said.
Gundersen had some ideas to find more revenue.
The town is allowed to charge its user fees per dwelling unit, but some older multi-apartment buildings in town are still charged as a single unit, he said.
He estimated at least 20 such buildings, which together could generate about $10,000 more.
“The newer buildings are being charged now,” he said.
Another option would be to lower the number of cubic feet of water needed to trigger an additional charge.
Currently users pay $121.35 per quarter for usage of 0 to 1,500 cubic feet. If more water is used the charge is $8.09 per 100 cubic feet.
Gundersen said there are more than 340 users “way below the minimum,” and even if the 1,500 cubic feet were dropped to 1,200, “people on fixed income and not using much water won’t see an increase.”
There would still be 300 users below 1,200, he said.
The drop would increase revenue by about $5,000.
Lowering the threshold to 1,000 cubic feet could generate $10,000 to $15,000 more in revenue, he said.
The charge for more than 1,000 cubic feet would be about $12/100 cubic feet, he said.
Doar added that currently single-person homes are getting billed “for much more consumption than they use, and they’re subsidizing four-person families.”
He also acknowledged that to date “we’ve shifted a lot of the burden to second home owners.”
Highest users include motels and hotels, he said.
The selectmen decided to table a decision on the budget until their next meeting to study it further and to allow Gundersen to gather more information on the potential for additional dwelling units to bring into the fold.
In other business last week, selectmen awarded a bid to construct a new terminal building and do other improvements at the Bethel Airport to Glen Builders of Conway, N.H.
The bid was $663,581 (engineering not included).
The airport will get a $750,000 federal grant over two years to go toward the work.
Doar said the airport is also looking to add $39,840 to bring all electrical components into the terminal.
Work is expected to start in mid-September and be mostly done by winter.