With significantly less development and growth recently than anticipated in Havre de Grace, Mayor Wayne Dougherty is recommending a minimum increase of 15 percent in water and sewer rates to ensure the financial health of the city's water and sewer fund in the coming 2015 fiscal year.
Meanwhile, the Havre de Grace City Council moved another step closer Tuesday to completing the annexation of another large undeveloped tract near the I-95/Route 155 interchange.
The mayor gave his second-quarter financial report and his responses to the Water and Sewer Commission's annual report during Tuesday's council meeting.
Dougherty projects a sharp decrease in income tax revenue to the general fund by $120,000, the result of the federal budget sequestration to curb spending in Washington, D.C. The impact has been felt in Havre de Grace, the home of many federal employees.
Water and Sewer Commission members told the mayor and council in December 2013 that the fund faced "financial failure" because of a $1.7 million deficit incurred the previous fiscal year.
The deficit was the result of drastic revenue shortfalls as the city had 36 fewer building permits than officials expected.
Dougherty does not expect things to improve for the current or upcoming fiscal year, as the city continues to struggle to meet its growth targets halfway through the 2014 fiscal year, and faces increased personnel expenses in water and sewer.
"My initial review of anticipated operations concludes that a 15 percent rate increase will be necessary, at a minimum," he said, reading from his written responses to the commission's report.
Dougherty said a 20 percent increase would be necessary, if the city council does not follow through on a recommendation by the commission, supported by the mayor, to push the effective date for rate increases from Oct. 1 to April 1, to ensure 100 percent of revenue comes in during the "entire" fiscal year.
He said the water and sewer fund loses 25 percent of revenue when rate increases are set to start Oct. 1.
The city's current water rate is $4.80 per 1,000 gallons and the sewer rate is $7.20 per 1,000 gallons, according to the municipal website. Base charges run from $79.50 to $880.75, depending on the size of the water meter.
Councilman Fred Cullum read about 20 amendments to Annexation Resolution 277, which authorizes the city to annex 244.3 acres south of Route 155 near Bulle Rock Parkway, known by some as the Mt. Felix Farm or the Montgomery Green property.
He said the amendments were the result of consultations among the property owners seeking annexation, the city attorney and planning staff and commission members, which "we felt would be more beneficial to the City of Havre de Grace, plus some items that just needed to be cleaned up."
The amendments include small clerical changes to the wording of phrases and sentences, changing the name on the signature page from Interim Director of Administration Patrick Sypolt to Director of Administration James Newby – Newby was appointed as director of administration in recent months – as well as setting aside five acres for a city park "for use by the public for leisure and relaxation."
The park, plus an extension of the Lower Susquehanna Heritage Greenway trail, would go toward a requirement that a quarter of the land being annexed be used as open space, Cullum explained.
Cullum also put forth an amendment removing much of the language in the resolution that would have provided city property tax breaks of varying length to different parcels, streamlining the wording to provide a "100 percent reduction" of 10 years for all parcels.
He noted that any parcel that became "the subject of a recorded subdivision plat" during the 10-year waiver period would be subject to city property taxes at the full rate, once the plat is recorded in land records.
Council members unanimously approved Cullum's amendments, which also include setting a second public hearing date of April 7.
A previous public hearing took place Feb. 3, where the only person to comment was former councilman Joe Kochenderfer asked for a Greenway trail provision.
"From this point on, this will be referred to as Charter Annexation Resolution 277 (As Amended)," Dougherty said.
Councilman Joseph Smith expressed concerns about how the mayor and his administration have handled staffing in the new economic development department.
The department and position of economic development director, who reports to the director of administration, were created by council resolution in September 2013.
Smith said the economic development manager post is currently empty and said he wanted to "get some indication of what the plans are moving forward" and ensure the department was "fully staffed and fully viable."
The mayor was visibly annoyed and took Smith to task for bringing up what he considered a personnel matter during an open council meeting. He said later that Smith was "out of order."
Smith stressed he did not want to publicly air personnel matters.
He added, however, that he wanted to learn the status of the economic development department to ensure its staff could continue to work to bolster the city's economy and receive the frequent accolades that are bestowed on those who work in the tourism sector.
Smith said Thursday that although the director position remains open, the mayor has reported "he has four possible candidates for the director position, but he has not presented them to the council for consideration."
City officials kicked off Tuesday's meeting by presenting plaques to representatives of nonprofit organizations, city and county agencies and local businesses who volunteered their time to pull off a successful War of 1812 commemoration last May.
The three-day event included tall ships, fireworks, a concert and re-enactment of the British attack on Havre de Grace in May 1813.
Thousands of people filled the streets to watch the re-enactment.
Dougherty told the volunteers "we are forever grateful" for their support.
EPA stormwater inspection
Planning Director Neal Mills announced that officials with the federal Environmental Protection Agency conducted a detailed inspection of the city's stormwater management infrastructure in January.
Mills said the results of the "short notice" inspection – EPA officials gave city officials two weeks' notice – would be released in two to three months.
The inspection, which officials estimated was the first of stormwater infrastructure in Havre de Grace, is required under the city's MS4 (Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System) discharge permit for stormwater.
The permit is issued by the state to counties and municipalities to ensure compliance with the federal government's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System.
Mills said the city's permit expired in 2008, but it remains valid until it is renewed. Harford County is also in the process of renewing its MS4 permit.
Mills said the inspectors reviewed the city's public education and outreach efforts, levels of public participation, its discharge outlets that empty into the Susquehanna River, its management of runoff from active construction sites and its control of "post-construction" runoff from sites where work is complete and its "pollution prevention" efforts.
Dougherty said EPA officials give "no indication of how you will do" but made "very positive comments" about the city's cooperation and quick response.