published Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Cleveland budget includes water, sewer rate increase

CLEVELAND BUDGET

Fiscal 2009-2010 — $35 million

Fiscal 2010-2011 (Estimated) — $36.5 million

Fiscal 2011-2012 — $35.9 million

Source: City of Cleveland

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CLEVELAND, Tenn. — The city budget approved Tuesday by the Cleveland City Council includes a rate increase for water and sewer from Cleveland Utilities.

The budget, which includes no city salary increases or property tax increases, provides a 4.78 percent water rate increase and a 3.99 percent sewer rate increase.

The increase takes effect July 1.

The utility rate was less than the 6 percent water and 5 percent sewer increases Cleveland Utilities sought. The revised percentage takes away a salary increase for employees.

“If you don’t pass any increase for water and sewer, I would beg you not to do any more annexation,” Cleveland Utilities General Manager Tom Wheeler told the council before the vote.

Annexation provides increased revenue for the city, he said, but creates extra costs for the utility service.

Usually, Wheeler said, “there’s not a bigger proponent than myself’’ for annexation.

Wheeler and others said the increase is needed to provide a third major water line from the Hiwassee Utilities Commission water plant in Charleston, through town and south to APD 40.

Money is needed to keep the water and sewer systems, including some sections that are more than 70 years old, operating, Cleveland Utilities Water Division Manager Craig Mullinax said.

A third 20-inch water line would provide for future expected growth plus support two existing and aging 20-inch lines, he said.

Council members Charlie McKenzie, Richard Banks and George Poe opposed the budget with the utility rates. They voted for a version that included no raises and no utility rate hikes.

Banks and Poe said that in today’s economy an increase of just a few dollars is a challenge. And if the economy improves in coming months, Poe said, the budget could be amended in mid-fiscal year.

Banks said the rate increase is comparable to a 9-cent property tax increase per $100 of assessed value.

Council members had four options before them Tuesday, the result of requests late Monday at the end of a marathon meeting.

Council members Bill Estes, David May, Avery Johnson and Dale Hughes, former utility board chairman, voted for the winning option.

Mayor Tom Rowland, also a Cleveland Utilities board member, said he will not veto the budget ordinance and admires those on both sides of the vote.

“One side says veto it and put those costs on hold,” Rowland said. “The other side says the community needs the progress and growth.”

Wheeler likewise said council members faced a tough decision.

about Randall Higgins...

Randall Higgins covers news in Cleveland, Tenn., for the Times Free Press. He started work with the Chattanooga Times in 1977 and joined the staff of the Chattanooga Times Free Press when the Free Press and Times merged in 1999. Randall has covered Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Alabama. He now covers Cleveland and Bradley County and the neighboring region. Randall is a Cleveland native. He has bachelor’s degree from Tennessee Technological University. His awards ...

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