WESTMINSTER — The City Council had good news and bad news when presenting its proposed budget for public digestion Monday night.
The good news:
The proposed spending plan for fiscal 1992 calls for the city's property tax rate to remain at 91 cents per $100 of assessable value.
The bad news?
The measure includes a recommended 21 percent increase in city sewer service rates, though water rates are requested to stay the same.
"The reality of it is, when it's only pertaining to the sewer rates, . . . the total the bill reflects to the user is not that much," said Councilman William F. Haifley, chairman of the three-member Finance Committee.
Haifley said the rate increase is needed to cover projected higher costs of running the city's wastewater treatment plant, which is undergoing an expansion and upgrade that will nearly double its capacity.
Haifley offered examples of the effect of the proposed rate increase on a resident's sewer bill.
A city resident who uses 11,669 gallons during a three-month billing period now pays $48. Under the proposed rates, that user would pay $52.48, a rise of $4.48 every three months.
The city also serves some residential areas outside the city limits. A citizen using 12,919 gallons during a billing period now pays $72.07, Haifley said.
That bill under the proposed sewer rates would rise to $79.79, an increase of $7.72 every three months.
Despite the requested sewer-rate increase, Haifley said the city is in a "strong financial position." The proposed budget "reflects a reasonable balance between department requests and absolute necessity," he said.
The budget package is partof a $10.2 million city spending plan for the coming fiscal year, which starts July 1. Taxes on the average $134,000 home would remain at$488 annually.
The general fund budget totals $5.3 million (up from $5.05 million in the current budget), the sewer budget $2.8 million, and the water budget $2.1 million.
Citizens will have a chance to offer their views on the proposed spending package during a publichearing at 7:30 p.m. May 6 at City Hall.
The distinguishing characteristic of the proposed budget is a request for $1.3 million to begin work on new office space for city government. Coupled with money the council placed in the current year's budget, the total available for the project this year is $1.6 million.
What exactly that money will pay for -- or how much it represents of the final amount needed for the project -- remains unclear.
At the least, the money will pay for design and early construction of new office space. But what form that space will take -- an addition to City Hall, a new building, renovation of other city properties --hinges on a consultant's final report the council is awaiting, City Manager Philip Hertz said Monday.
Administrators aren't even offering a rough estimate of how muchthey think the project ultimately will cost until the report -- a study of city government space needs -- is completed and delivered.
The project, aimed at relieving what has become a debilitating space crunch at City Hall, will take wing this year, Haifley said.
"The train has left the station, so everybody better get on board," Haifley said at last week's council work session on the budget.
At that session, the council and Mayor W. Benjamin Brown locked horns on how best to pay for the project. Brown advocates a bond issue, saying the financial burden should be spread over more than one generation of residents.
Haifley and other council members countered that the city should pay up front for new space while it can afford to do so. Headded that the interest payments of a bond issue could double the final -- though still unknown -- cost.