Altavista approved a $10.1 million fiscal year 2020 budget, cementing a second year of utility rate hikes as part of a five-year plan for long-term utility improvements.
The budget was approved by a 6-1 vote Tuesday night, with town council member Jay Higginbotham opposing. Higginbotham said he could not support a budget that included the water and sewer rate increase due to resident opposition. Altavista voices rose after quarterly April utility bills reflected the increase implemented in December 2018, the first year utility raises took effect.
Altavista resident Linda Spinner took the opportunity to make comments on the increases during Tuesday’s public comment period. She said the rate increases were uncalled for, and that any problems with water should fall on the backs of companies in the town using a “majority” of water, like Abbott Laboratories.
“I don’t think it should be put on the seniors and non-working community,” Spinner said. “This is a retirement community, so everybody is on a budget. I don’t think this should have been put on us.”
The rate increase is 8% for water and 4% for sewer and will take effect Dec. 1.
In-town customers will see their water rate increase from $2.35 per 1,000 gallons to $2.54 for the same amount of water, and their sewer rate increase from $3.19 per 1,000 gallons of water to $3.32.
The utility rate increases are expected to result in an additional $330,000 for the town in fiscal year 2020, according to Town Manager Waverly Coggsdale.
Last year’s utility increases were expected to generate an additional $282,042 for the town.
The rate hikes follow a 2017 facilities assessment and utility rate study that recommended $51 million in water and sewer improvements during the next 25 years.
Tom Fore, the town’s director of public utilities, reduced the number to $41 million, trimming off excess projects and costs.
The town will look into borrowing money this fall to fund some of the long-term projects, like water- line replacement and filter improvements. Coggsdale estimated $18 million would be needed to cover the first five years of improvements.
“I have to do these increases to ultimately get to where we can pay that debt service,” Coggsdale said.
The utility rate increases are planned across five years to produce the revenue needed to cover the debt service, estimated to be $1.4 million annually.
Coggsdale said Tuesday night council is working to address resident issues with the utility rate hikes and will begin a discussion in the fall about any improvements or adjustments to the five-year plan. Council also voiced interest in finding or creating programs that help those who are struggling with the additional fees.
Projects include resurfacing the basketball courts at Coleman Park, playground replacement at Shreve Park and long-term water-line replacement.
“We’re going to plan on delivering our high-quality services,” Coggsdale said of the new budget. “We’ve got a lot going on. Over the next three to five years we’ve got a lot of utility projects that folks will see.”
The council meets again for a work session June 25.
Sarah Honosky covers Appomattox and Campbell counties at The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5556.