MONROE – Even Union County Public Schools is bracing for the impact of higher water and sewer fees on its budget.
The county recently approved a 15.5% water and sewer rate increase effective Feb. 1. Another 15.5% increase takes effect Jan. 1, 2021. The school district is the second-largest consumer of water and sewer in the county.
With the district soon entering joint discussions with the county regarding next year’s fiscal year budget, school board member Gary Sides wanted to give staff authority to negotiate a long-range water and sewer contract with a fixed rate.
“I think it is only appropriate since funding of some of our operating funds does come directly from the county,” he said. “It makes no sense going round and round chasing our tail. … The county has to pay us to pay them for the increase.”
He mentioned after negotiating terms with the county, district staff would return to the appropriate committee and the board for approval. But school board member Kathy Heintel told Sides his request should be vetted by the finance committee first.
Sides replied he thought the request was time-sensitive given the county’s intent to soon meet with the district for a joint budget meeting. Still, Sides didn’t get the second to his motion.
However, he was successful in getting the request on the finance committee agenda. The committee convenes Jan. 28. The next school board meeting is Feb. 4.
“Instead of Peter paying Paul, let’s just have a contract,” Sides said. “I resist having to increase our budget to ask the county to fund something like that that goes right back to them.”
The school board’s finance committee discussed the water and sewer rate increase at its Dec. 17 meeting for about three minutes. Heintel chairs the committee. Sides is a member.
Chief Financial Officer Shanna McLamb shared with the committee that the rate changes would amount to approximately $65,000 this year and $245,000 next year as a result. The district already pays upwards of $1 million in water and sewer.
“Utility budgets – you can’t budget these to the penny,” McLamb told the committee.
Later in the meeting, Superintendent Andrew Houlihan told the committee that the county wanted to have joint conversations with the district in late January/early February and the early spring.