CAPE MAY POINT — Residents will pay higher water and sewer bills this year in part because of higher costs from the suppliers.
Borough Commission adopted ordinances raising the rates at a meeting on Thursday night. The quarterly water and sewer charges will each go up by $7 per quarter or, in total, $56 per year. The increase will only be in place for the final two quarters of this year, so the increase for 2014 will be $28 per household.
The utility news was tempered somewhat by a municipal budget the commission approved that does not increase the tax rate.
The sewer increase is merely passing on higher charges from the Cape May County Municipal Utilities Authority, which treats the effluent, said Commissioner Robert Mullock. The water increase is partly from higher charges from Cape May, which supplies water from its desalination plant. Mullock said annual increases over the years were not passed on to users. The Water & Sewer Utility surplus has declined from $174,804 in 2006 to just $88,068. The utility budget is using $72,700 of this surplus for this year’s budget, leaving just it dangerously low if there is an emergency.
“The utility is going broke. In 2014 we recognized that surplus could go to less than $10,000,” said Mullock.
There are other factors. Water use is down because some residents, and even the borough, have installed wells for landscaping uses. The cold winter also led to a lot of broken water lines. Mullock said summer residents used to drain water systems, but now many simply turn the thermostat down, and this can lead to water breaks in very cold weather.
“Much of that water was on our side of the meter, and we had to pay those costs,” Mullock said.
A looming issue is that many of the 613 meters in town are decades old and should be replaced. Replacing all of them would cost $90,000 for traditional manual meters and $180,000 for digital electronic meters. The utility will retire some debt in 2015. Mullock said in 2016 meter replacements can be considered.
The commission approved a $1.7 million municipal budget that keeps the tax rate at 25.8 cents for each $100 of assessed valuation, the same as last year. Officials noted the budget does not use surplus to keep the tax rate low. The surplus account has grown from $485,903 to $506,855 over the past year.
“I got criticized a couple years ago for using surplus to keep the tax rate low. I think there is a balance we’ve achieved,” said Mayor Anita van Heeswyk.
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