Williston budget includes rate change and new officer

Williston Town Council had the first reading of its 2013-14 fiscal year budget during the regular meeting June 10.
The total general fund budget is $1.92 million, and projected expenses for next year are $22,000 less than the current year.
The budget does not include a millage increase but does have a 10 percent rise in the base rates for water and sewer services. Williston has not increased water and sewer rates in more than five years. Interim Town Administrator Roger LeDuc has said the town's rates are, on average, about 20 percent lower than other towns of similar size.
The monthly base rate for water for a 5/8-inch or 3/4-inch pipe will be $12.65 for in-town residents and $18.98 for out-of-town residents. The sewer rate for in-town will be $17.20 for the same size pipe and $25.80 for out-of-town customers.
Larger pipes will also see a 10 percent increase in the base rates.
At the meeting, council unanimously approved the first reading of two ordinances, one for the water rate increase and one for the sewer rate. The budget ordinance also passed unanimously.
In a memo to council, LeDuc said the rate increase is meant to offset the expected loss of revenue from the town's new winter base rate system, which takes effect in July. Also, the increase will help pay for new water meters and well-abandonment projects.
Fire Chief Milton Widener, speaking as a customer, addressed council about the new winter based system for water bills.
Widener said the new system could adversely affect people who have two meters. He has two meters but does not want to pay the money, several hundred dollars he says, to remove the "sprinkler" meter. He also said under the new system it will be unfair for him to have to pay two base rates - one for each meter. He asked council to change the system so all residential customers pay only a single base rate.
The new system averages customers' water usage during the months of January, February and March and uses that figure to determine the sewer usage rate for the rest of the year. This is meant to reduce costs for people who use water that doesn't go back into the sewer (pools, gardening, sprinklers, etc.) Under the new system, people currently using two meters will in essence no longer need the additional sprinkler meter but will be charged the extra base rate for having one.
"I want to be treated just like everybody else," Widener said.
About 200 customers in the town have more than one meter. The town plans to replace the current water meters with radio meters in the coming years.
Mayor Pro Tem Wanda Matthews said council would take Widener's comments into consideration. Mayor Tommy Rivers was not at the meeting.
Also part of the budget, town employees will see a $300 bonus in July and possibly another $300 bonus in December if council approves it.
The police department will receive extra funds for an additional officer, new police vehicle and equipment, including wireless laptops in patrol cars.
The maintenance department budget includes the use of four inmates from the Lower Savannah Work Release Center in Aiken. The cost of the inmates is $15 a day per inmate ($60 a day for four) and they would replace four workers the town hires for the months of April through September.
The inmates would have a supervisor and would cost $15,000 a year compared with the $40,000 the town pays four workers for six months of work. Inmates would work year round, doing everything from mowing grass to oil changes in the town garage. The town would be liable for any injuries an inmate suffers while working
Council will buy the lights along the rail trail from SCE&G for $16,000. The plan is to put the lights on timers and save money over the long term. LeDuc has said the plan can save $10,000 a year. Currently, the lights stay on all night.
The lights will turn on at dusk and off at 11 p.m. from April 1 thru Sept. 30. They will turn on at 5 a.m. and off again at dawn.
From October 1 to March 31, the lights would turn on at dusk and off at 10 p.m. They will stay off until the next night.
Council can adjust the timer settings if necessary.
According to the budget ordinance, property taxes will be 7 percent and must be paid in full by Jan. 15, 2014. After Jan. 15, there will be a 3 percent late fee added. If taxes aren't paid after February 1, a 7 percent fee will be added and then another 5 percent fee after March 16.
Council is still trying to decide whether to privatize garbage collection. LeDuc said the town will need to increase rates, currently $10 a month, if it plans to continue the service.
In other business:
The town received bids for its annual audit and chose the low bid of $5,000 from the firm Highsmith and Highsmith. For the past 25 years, Larry Bokar has been conducting the audit - with current costs at $14,100 a year. But Bokar plans to retire soon so the town needed to find another firm.
Assistant Town Administrator Kenny Cook said the bid is relatively low because the firm is trying to establish a presence in the area. He said a lengthy interview was conducted to make sure the firm would provide all services required by the town.
A public hearing on the budget is set for July 1 at 7:30 p.m.