No water, sewer rate increases in city budget

LOCK HAVEN — City Council reviewed the health of the water and sewer funds going into 2018, with no rate increases foreseen.

On Monday, Council looked at portions of the recommended city budget for 2018 and heard Downtown Lock Haven Inc. ask for an increased contribution next year, for a total of $15,000.

Downtown Manager Kasey Blesh spoke about the nonprofit organization, which is designed to promote the downtown, provide grant opportunities for local businesses, act as a one-stop information center for member businesses, and work as a liaison between downtown businesses and city government.

Downtown Inc. focuses solely on economic growth in the city, according to information Blesh presented. It can also “apply for grants that provide immediate, positive results for local businesses.”

The nonprofit’s primary goals for 2018 are to help its members grow through media and market research, bring new businesses into downtown spaces, pursue grants and funding to promote economic development, and work to make Main Street beautiful with new and welcoming signage, public art, and brand development.

Her information concluded with, “Please help us keep our beautiful community strong by investing in our program. You will see a clear return on investment in your business and your community.”

Mayor William E. Baney III said the local Sons of Italy is willing to donate $1,000 toward getting nicer garbage cans for the downtown district and is challenging other organizations to match that amount.

Letters were sent out about the challenge and organizations were asked to respond by Dec. 15, reported Maria Boileau, a new city employee who will become city planner next year.

After the meeting, council members held a work session on the water, sewer and levee portions of the recommended budget.

The Sewer Fund budget totals $3,418,788, which is $66,820 more than this year’s budget but less than the past several years.

No rate increase is needed, City Manager Richard W. Marcinkevage said. He cautioned council that increases, if any become necessary, should be made every five to seven years so customers are not hit with a big increase all at once.

The new sewage treatment plant is doing its job, he reported, but the city did need to buy about $3,000 in “credits” from other municipalities this year because the plant did not hit all the required marks all the time.

“That is a lot better than the year before,” Council Vice President Stephen L. Stevenson said.

Seven out of the nine employees covered by the Sewer Fund budget are eligible to retire in 2018 and 2019, Marcinkevage reported, and that could change the personnel expenses.

The city continues to maintain the county-owned pump station and sewage holding tank in Bald Eagle Township, he said.

The recommended budget does not include any capital projects yet, but considering the age of the city’s sewer lines, there is usually work to be done, he said. Next year’s projects should include work on a line behind Susquehanna Avenue, between the houses and the railroad tracks, he added.

The Water Fund is sound and has a healthy reserve, Marcinkevage said. Again, no rate increase is needed to fund that recommended budget, which totals $2,592,875. This is $224,449 higher than the 2017 budget and includes a carry-over of $869,992 from this year.

In the next two years, the city will need to address its reservoir dams, since they do not meet the latest requirements. The project would include raising the height of some dams and also breaching the old dam in Castanea which is no longer an active part of the city’s water system. This dam appears to be made of earth, but it has a concrete core that dates back to the 1800s and is part of the original water system, Marcinkevage said.

The dam work will come at a substantial cost, so the city will look to PennVest for funding help, he said.

The levee expenses for 2018 are recommended at $169,322 which is about $30,000 more than is expected to be spent in 2017.

The cost of full-time personnel should increase by about $39,500 next year so that more people hours can be devoted to combating brush, the city manager said. The city needs to do a better job of brushing to comply with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ requirements for the levee, which the Corps built, he said. Once brush becomes woody, it can develop a root system large enough to give water a place to seep into the flood protection structure, he explained.

This year, the levee system’s wells were rehabilitated, and in 2016, the conduits were inspected. Conduits must be inspected every five years, and they can be done all at once, or by groups spread out over five years, Marcinkevage said. Inspections can be costly, but if the city improves its TV inspection equipment, it can do the task in-house, he said. Council will see a request for better inspection equipment when it sees the capital projects “wish list,” he said.

Work will soon begin on a new comprehensive plan, but before it does, the city would like some help from the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

DCED can provide a five-year assessment for longterm financial stability by looking at costs, rates and taxes, Assistant City Manager Gregory J. Wilson said. The cost for the assessment would be $60,000, but the city would have to pay only half that amount, with DCED taking care of the other half, he said.

The same 50-50 split would be available if the city wants to address any of the recommendations in the assessment, he added.

This is a good planning tool, he said. Various requests will be made during the comprehensive planning process, and the assessment could show the city what requests it can and cannot afford to take up.

Bill Mincer, a citizen who often attends council meetings, asked that the budget be placed online, since he and other city residents with certain work hours cannot review one of the paper copies of the budget that are made available to the public. Marcinkevage said the budget is a large document, but he would look into that possibility.

Mincer also asked that council’s agenda be placed online before each meeting and that the meeting minutes appear online as well. Marcinkevage said that would be possible.