WESTERLY — The Water Department, Sewer Department and Transfer Station budgets for 2021-22 are in place following approval this week by the Town Council.
The council on Monday unanimously approved the three budgets, as well as the charge for water customers who exceed the base usage amount and the ad valorem tax for sewer-system users. Members of the council also agreed by consensus to adjust a proposed increase in the annual fee charged to fire districts by the Water Department for use of fire hydrants.
The Water Department budget for 2021-22 is $5.58 million, a $19,000 decrease from the current budget. The Sewer Department budget for 2021-22 is $5.39 million, down from the current $7.64 million budget, and the Transfer Station budget is $2.96 million, down from the current $3.01 million budget.
The newly approved transfer-station budget includes a $488,571 injection from the town's general fund. In May, Town Manager J. Mark Rooney and Mike Serra, the transfer station manager, discussed ways to bring the transfer station operations closer to a self-sustaining level. The proposals include reducing the hours of operation, a new user-fee system, and contracting for trash pick-up. On Monday, Rooney said the proposals would be discussed further with the council in July. The transfer station, like the water and sewer departments, is designated as an enterprise fund, which some officials say should be self-sustaining rather than dependent on the general fund.
Councilors Karen Cioffi and Philip Overton said they had hoped the ideas proposed by Rooney and Serra could have been adopted in time to help with the 2021-22 budget.
The flat fee for both residential and commercial and industrial users of the public water system will remain at $86 per unit. The overage fee for residential users will remain at $4.36 per 100 cubic feet in excess of 4,800 cubic feet per meter, and the overage fee for commercial and industrial users will remain at $5.06 per 100 cubic feet in excess of 4,800 cubic feet per meter.
The sewer system ad valorem tax was set at the current rate of 54 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value.
Utilities Director Bill Beauregard had sought an increase in the fee charged to fire districts for use of fire hydrants from $71 to $100 per year, retroactive to January, but a majority of councilors said they preferred the increase be phased in over time and that the increase start July 1 rather than retroactively. The fee increase would bring an additional $26,760 in revenue and would come closer to covering the cost of maintaining and cleaning the hydrants, Beaurgeard said. There are 923 hydrants in the town.
Westerly Fire Department Chief John Mackay asked the council to consider phasing the increase in over time. The proposed increase would cost the Westerly Fire District, where most of the hydrants are located, a total of about $11,000, Mackay said.
"I don't think the $11,000 is fair to the fire district. If it went in gradually, maybe," Mackay said.