County budget calls for utility fee hike

Posted on Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 1:07 pm

Although the proposed county budget does not include property tax increases, some residents could see their water and sewer fees go up.

The current price for customers to hook up to water would rise by 4 percent and the cost for sewer use would increase by 1 percent. In total, residents would pay an average $14.64 more a year. These fees help fund the public utilities department.

The county increased utility fees with hopes “to reduce its reliance on the use of reserves,” according to county budget documents.

The $21.1 million public utilities operating budget, which decreased slightly from Fiscal Year 2014, was introduced at the board of supervisors’ March 5 workshop.

Capacity fees would also go up by 2.5 percent and currently Hanover County’s prices are the second highest in the metro Richmond region.

“Our fees are at about the right level,” said Steven Herzog, director of public utilities.

Herzog explained that one reason the capacity rates are high is because that’s how much it costs to provide everyone with water and sewage. Another reason is because of the way the comprehensive plan is designed, because the areas with utilities jump around and vary from area to area.

“Our comprehensive plan is not designed to be efficient with utilities necessarily, it’s designed to be the best plan for our community,” Herzog said, adding that both Chesterfield and Henrico are considering raising their water and sewage fees.

But a few supervisors were concerned about increasing the rates if the prices are already higher than most of the county’s competitors.

“I have a hard time justifying raising the price,” said Supervisor Wayne T. Hazzard, South Anna District representative.

Hazzard said the reason they’ve had the fees is to promote development, but developers and builders will be less likely to come to the county if the fees keep increasing and are one of the highest in the area.

The utility department’s $8.7 million capital improvement plan, includes renewal and replacement projects for existing infrastructure, which current customers pay for through their fees. Expansion projects are the other aspect, which are used to extend water or sewer to more areas and are supported primarily by new and future public utilities customers, Herzog said.

Human resources

The proposed budget re-establishes the tuition reimbursement program, which has not operated since fiscal year 2013. Janet Lawson, director of human resources, said it’s been a popular program.

In addition to bringing the tuition reimbursement program back, the financial plan also calls for the restoration of roughly 20 jobs. Between Fiscal Years 2009 and 2013, the county cut about 80 positions, Lawson said.

In this year’s budget, no jobs were lost in the Sheriff’s Office’s department or with Hanover Fire-EMS.

She said that 26 positions in public safety and judicial administration were below the competitive salary and the county is recommending that those jobs receive an increase to remain competitive.

Commonwealth’s Attorney Trip Chalkley requested a number of raises for his employees because of that reason.

He asked for $25,000 for competitive employee raises and the office’s entire budget is $1.6 million.

Chalkey compared his employees’ salaries to those of attorneys working in nearby localities like Chesterfield and Henrico. He discovered that Hanover’s attorneys earn significantly less.

For instance, the chief deputy attorney earns $107,200, which Chalkley said is $25,000 less than individuals in Richmond ($132,00) and Henrico and Chesterfield ($133,000).  This position is responsible for assisting Chalkley but also the other attorneys.

This year, the office lost two employees due to financial reasons, Chalkley said.

“I don’t expect to be equal, but I expect to be competitive and right now I’m not competitive,” Chalkley said.

The board will host a public hearing March 26 and is expected to adopt the budget April 9.

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