Alabaster residents may face utility rate increases

Published 12:16 am Thursday, September 10, 2009

City garbage and sewer rates could be on the rise over the next few years, the Alabaster City Council announced during a Wednesday night budget workshop.

During the workshop, city officials considered raising Alabaster’s sewer rates by an average of about $3 per month, and discussed raising the city’s monthly garbage fee from $12.41 to $13.99.

The rate increases would help to stabilize the city’s garbage- and sewer-related expenditures, and would prevent the city from using its general fund and reserves to maintain the services, according to Ward 7 Councilman Tommy Ryals and City Administrator George Henry.

“You can see in ’08 that we were about $75,000 short, and we will also be way short in 2009,” Ryals said of the city’s sewer revenues. “If we keep our current rates and complete no capital expenditure projects, we will be about $900,000 in the hole by 2012.”

Currently, the city charges residents a flat sewer fee of $17.50 per month and $1.85 per 1,000 gallons of water used. The current fee structure typically costs an average family about $29 per month, Ryals said.

But because predicted future sewer revenues likely will not cover the city’s sewer costs, Ryals proposed raising the fiscal year 2010 flat fee to $19 and $2.15 per 1,000 gallons of water used. The increase would raise an average family’s bill to about $32 per month, Ryals said.

Without the 2010 sewer rate increase, the city could face a nearly $210,000 sewer funding shortfall, according to Alabaster Mayor David Frings.

The city then would raise the per-gallon fee by about 30 cents in 2011 and 2012, Ryals explained

“There is no doubt we will have to bump our rates a little bit,” Ryals said. “This plan would not be a dramatic increase for folks. It would get us out of the hole without being an overbearing burden on our ratepayers.

“Even without funding any capital projects, our budget will be way low. But there are some things we are going to have to take care of and address,” Ryals added, explaining the city soon will have to complete upgrades and repairs on its aging sewer facilities. “These are things that are going to have to be done in time.”

If the city council passes the rate increase during its Sept. 17 meeting, the new rates would go into effect Nov. 1.

The council Sept. 17 also will vote on a proposed garbage rate increase.

By raising the garbage fee by $1.58 per month, the city could recoup a portion of a projected $377,809 garbage funding shortfall.

“They (Allied Waste Services) bill us on the number of houses they serve, and the net effect is that you’re losing money,” Henry said. “Raising the fee to $15 would actually be the break-even point, but raising it to $13.99 would at least cover the $352,000 coming out of your general fund.”

“The idea is that we are either going to cut back services or raise the rates,” Ward 5 Councilman and Board President Jim McClain said, noting the city offers garbage pickup five days per week.

The garbage and sewer rate discussions came shortly before the city officials reviewed Alabaster’s proposed fiscal year 2010 operating budgets, which go into effect Oct. 1.

The city’s proposed nearly $22 million expenditure budget and about $22.4 million revenue budget both were “down slightly” from Alabaster’s 2009 budgets, McClain said.

Because the city is predicted to bring in less sales tax revenue next year than it did during the 2009 fiscal year, the city council reviewed a “bare bones” expenditure budget, according to Frings.

The council also will vote on the operating budgets Sept. 17.

“Our revenue is in excess of our expenditures. Not wildly in excess, but still in excess,” Frings said. “This does not propose any employee increases for this year.

“But we did all that so we can continue to hold our own,” Frings added. “This is an effort to ensure everyone who is with the city now keeps their jobs.”