NEWS

Greencastle to raise water rates

PAT FRIDGEN

With reluctance but out of necessity, members of the Greencastle Area, Franklin County, Water Authority unanimously agreed Monday night to raise water rates three percent. After a review of the 2010 budget proposal, Gregory Rock, Robert Miller, Thomas Green and newly-appointed member Jason Gerhart took the formal action.

Manager Kenneth Womack reported that operating revenue was projected at $1.44 million, the bulk coming from metered sales. Operating expenses were $1.53 million, with engineering fees planned at $200,000. That more closely matched the $180,000 spent in 2009, though only $90,000 was budgeted. Major projects for the new year are getting Well No. 4 online, and engineering Route 11 and Madison Street for water main replacements in 2011.

He said GAFCWA will take a big hit on interest "because rates are down and we're spending all our money." He added that the authority was due $323,000 when Heritage Estates West began active development. It would be used for the Route 11 fees, but there was no guarantee when that money would be paid. As a result the capital fund could also go down $245,000.

"The issue is with developers and tapping fees. Do we wait for them or increase rates?" Womack asked.

The authority was also waiting for reimbursement from Shadow Creek Estates for infrastructure expenses. Solicitor Jan Sulcove noted that neither developer could fulfill their past financial commitments right now.

Ed Goodhart, who is working with GAFCWA as it pursues an agreement to purchase the Antrim Township Municipal Authority water system, had looked over the budget at Womack's request.

"You really should consider a rate increase," he said. "A little, more often, is better than 10 or 15 percent at once." He recommended that the rates create a built-in surplus so the authority would have money for capital improvements and not always have to borrow or use leftover funds not spent somewhere else. He suggested the new rate cover the $90,000 deficit and the authority cut expenses to get a surplus by the end of the year.

Miller was unwilling to go five percent, especially because seniors would not receive an increase in Social Security payments in 2010. He moved that the budget be approved plus water rates be raised three percent, to be evaluated in six months, and that Womack put excess tapping fees into reserve. Gerhart made the second and all voted aye.

Other business

A request by Allison Fortmann for an adjustment to her water bill was denied at the Dec. 21 meeting. She stated in a letter that a water heater had failed at a vacant rental property on Nicole Drive.  Her bill of $3,200 was for 416,000 gallons of lost water. Miller reiterated that, as has been the case for all customers who have similar unfortunate experiences, GAFCWA only broke even on what it charged for water and couldn't absorb the expense. Womack would set up a payment plan.

Sulcove said the required hearing for the acquisition of Well No. 4 from the school district was Feb. 22. If the judge approved the paperwork the contract would be finalized in 10 days. Then the authority could begin constructing the permanent well, extend the water main, put in a driveway and fence and finish it all within the year.

Engineer Rachel Govelovich said Norfolk Southern had begun discussions on getting water service, but wouldn't need much capacity.

The board met in executive session with Goodhart to discuss the ATMA acquisition.