Several downtown business owners came before the Thomaston City Council during a public hearing on the proposed 2014 city budget held Tuesday night just prior to the regular council meeting. The owners were there to protest proposed increases in the city’s electric, water and sewer, and sanitation rates. Several of the owners stated that they are struggling to make ends meet as it is, and the rate hikes will only make matters worse. Sylvia Chapman also attended and said she had spoken to three business owners who said if the rate hikes are implemented, they will be forced to close down.
Mayor Hays Arnold and the City Council presented facts and figures on what the city is spending on its services to residents and businesses. Arnold noted that the electric department revenue is used by other departments to help get them through the year and to get needed work done. He added that the city has not had a property tax hike in the last 10 years because of the work they have done in trimming down the city’s payroll, plus using the revenue earned from the utilities to complete needed infrastructure work.
While the final vote on the budget will not be till Monday, December 30, the City Council gave no indication of any plans to change the proposed rate hikes.
Earlier in the day Tuesday, City Manager Patrick Comiskey released the following statement describing the city’s plans for the future. They include the proposed rate hikes, and a planned request for a two mil tax increase in 2014:
“In the past seven (7) years, the city has completed approximately $25.2 million in infrastructure and capital replacement projects of which $5.7 million was supported with grants and gifts. This includes the replacement of approximately 1/4th of city’s water lines and more than five miles in milling and paving of city streets.
“From 2009-2012 the city’s cash and investments have dropped from $16 million to $13.3 million.
“The city currently has approximately $2.2 million in electric reserves, approximately $1.4 million in general fund reserves, and approximately $740,000 in water and sewer reserves. The city has approximately $3 million in SPLOST funds restricted to sewer line replacement and upgrade projects. The city has approximately $3.3 million available for infrastructure replacement and improvements. Approximately $1/2 million is set aside in the bond sinking fund and about $3/4 million is set aside in the capital purchases accounts. As of October 31, 2013, the city has about $1.5 million in operating funds.
“The city’s outstanding debt at the close of 2013 is expected to be approximately $10 million as compared to $14 million in 2002. The city retired the 1992 GEFA Loan in 2013 and refinanced $8 million in remaining principal debt from the 2002 bond issue. The refinancing will save approximately $80,000 annually through 2027 from the previous bond terms.
“In 2014, the city manager proposes increasing the electric rates by 6 ½% to offset the 5.7% or approximately $600,000 increase in electric wholesale costs. The average residential customer using 1,000 kWh is still expected to pay less than neighboring Georgia Power customers. Other proposed rate increases include 50 cents per 1,000 gallons of water usage, 45 cents per 1,000 gallons of sewer usage, and 75 cents per month on residential garbage service. A 4% increase is proposed on commercial garbage.
“I advised the mayor and city council that in August of 2014, I am going to recommend a 2 mil increase on property taxes. This would be the first time the city has increased property taxes since the closing of the Thomaston Mills Company.
“The city is planning to initiate $6 million in infrastructure replacement projects in 2014. The largest being the $3.2 million Uptown/Downtown water line replacement project involving $1 million in Federal grant and loan forgiveness funds. The city also hopes to initiate the approximately $2 million dollar Town Branch Sewer Line replacement project. Other projects include the refurbishing of the Davis Lake Water Tower at approximately $600,000; the milling and paving of several city streets for approximately $250,000; the replacement of waterlines on Davis and Woodlawn for $110,000; completion of the filter rehabilitation at the city water plant for $100,000; replacement of downtown sidewalks for $100,000; multiple sewer line projects; and water service and sidewalk work on L Street SW in Silvertown West Village.
“The city has other infrastructure projects on the horizon in 2015. The city is planning on milling and paving over 6 miles of city streets at more than $2 million and hopefully initiating a $2.2 million dollar water line replacement project in Silvertown East Village with federal assistance.”