The Frankford Town Council on July 26 unanimously approved the Town’s budget for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, including a substantial percent increase in the Town’s water fee rate.
The water rate increase was actually approved last year by the council but had not been implemented. Water customers in town limits will now pay $12.68 per 1,000 gallons used, compared to the previous rate of $8.75 per 1,000 gallons.
Even with the increased rate, the Town’s water plant will be operating at a loss of $2,200 in the coming year, because the fiscal year actually started July 1, and the water rate will go into effect in September, according to Velicia Melson, secretary/treasurer of the town council.
Melson called the Town’s 2018-2019 budget “a no-frills, bare-bones budget,” adding, “We are replacing items that need to be replaced, and there’s no surplus.”
Council Vice President Greg Welch pointed out that the Town “would be in the black if we’d done the budget earlier and had those two months of the increase.” Melson specified that, in spite of that, the council would not make the increase retroactive.
In an effort to make up for that lost income, the Town will now charge a fee for paying water bills with credit cards. The move was suggested by Finance Committee Member Kathy Murray. Melson said the Town currently absorbs the expense that the credit card companies charge to process the payments. “That’s an expense,” she emphasized.
“You should definitely recoup everything you’re being charged,” Murray said.
Prior to last week’s budget hearing, only customers who paid their bills through the Town website were charged a fee. Going forward, anyone who pays their water bill with a credit card will pay a fee, which will probably be around 3 percent — which is what Murray said she recommends.
The fee will be based on what credit card companies are currently charging to process payments. The council agreed to vote at its Aug. 6 meeting to set a credit card fee.
In addition, out-of-town users of the Town’s water system, currently totaling about 20 users, will see a user fee increase from $20 to $50 per billing cycle.
“I’d just like to see us with a balanced budget for the water system, especially since we are increasing the rate,” Welch said.
Murray also said the “debacle with Mountaire” — referring to the poultry company installing its own water system and going off the Town system, thereby causing the Town to lose considerable income — “has got to get resolved.”
“I think the council’s hands are tied” until the issue of whether Mountaire’s new water system was properly handled by, among other entities, the state Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Control, is resolved, Murray said. Welch has accused DNREC of “illegally” approving Mountaire’s in-house water plant, which cost the Town half of its water revenue.
Meanwhile, the Town has missed a payment on a loan from the state Office of Drinking Water; the office has offered to forgive the payment if the Town adds fluoride to its water, but that issue is at a standstill until the Town hires a new attorney to replace former town solicitor Chad Lingenfelder, who was dismissed from that post in May.
In other budget-related items, the council approved the continuation of the Town’s use of Delaware State Police coverage for 12 hours each week, at a cost of $41,164 for the year.
The next regular meeting of the Frankford Town Council will be Aug. 6 at 7 p.m. in the town hall.
By Kerin Magill