RW Council may hike taxes and water rates

RIDGEWAY – After helping Town Council assemble its FY 2017-18 budget, Larry Finney of Green, Finney & Horton Certified Public Accountants pointed out at last week’s Council meeting that the budget didn’t have a lot of wiggle room. To remedy that, Finney suggested Council raise water, sewer and millage rates.

“There’s not a lot of extra room in there by the time you just take what your expenses have been historically, and you increase them a little bit for some of the things we’ve talked about,” Finney told Council members.

Using what he called a reasonably conservative approach, Finney said he came up with this year’s proposed budget after examining the Town’s financial history over the last three years and the year-to-date projections for this fiscal year.

The slated projections as of now, Finney said, would leave Ridgeway with $185,000 left over in unrestricted funds. With $60,000 budgeted for Pig on the Ridge and the Arts Festival, that figure ($185,000) would be trimmed down to $125,000 along with $104,000 in the utility fund.

Finney’s first recommendation was to take the $400,000 that Ridgeway received from an insurance settlement and transfer $175,000 of it into the general fund and $200,000 into the utility fund.

“But taking away the ($400,000) settlement, you would be in a much tighter financial condition,” he said.

Finney suggested the Town build up its excess revenues each year by raising water and sewer rates to bolster the utility fund and increasing both business license fees and millage rates to improve the general fund.

Finney said that while the Town receives its water from Winnsboro, Ridgeway doesn’t charge its customers any more than Winnsboro charges.

“The only rate increases for the Town of Ridgeway come when the Town of Winnsboro increases their rates,” Finney said. “Historically, what y’all have done is simply pass along whatever Winnsboro passes along to you, but nothing more. That doesn’t allow you to build up any reserves. So one of my recommendations is that you need, on a fairly regular basis, to be looking at adding another couple percent or so to your water rates to help you have a little more room in the utility budget.”

Councilman Doug Porter recommended that Council adopt an approach similar to that of Lugoff-Elgin, which charges a $20 minimum for the first 1,000 gallons, and the standard per thousand rate for subsequent gallons.

In Ridgeway, Porter said, “the first per thousand gallon rate is $15. I’m saying we raise that minimum … then leave our rate per each additional thousand gallons at the current rate.”

Winnsboro’s current wholesale rate per thousand gallons is $4.06, but Council is waiting for information on a rate increase from Winnsboro. (who said this?????)

Porter also favored raising the current millage rate of 1.63 percent, which he said has not increased since 2008. According to Finney, Council could raise the millage rate to 1.826 percent this year and retroactively for the two previous years.

“We need to look at increasing [our millage rate] this year,” Porter said. “If we can possibly go back three years, how much that generates, I don’t know.”

Councilman Heath Cookendorfer, however, recommended waiting until Council receives additional information on water rates from the Town of Winnsboro. He said that at this time Council has only assumptions about what the increased costs might be from Winnsboro.

“We really need to contact Winnsboro,” Cookendorfer said, “before we just decide to arbitrarily add one percent, two percent to something we don’t even know what the fee is yet.”

Mayor Charlene Herring agreed that Council should wait, but said that “if we’re ever going to get out of this slump and do the things we need to do, we’re going to have to make some tough decisions.”