NEWBERRY ‒ The Newberry City Commission talked budget, finances and water rates at the Sept. 6, City Commission meeting, tentatively increasing electric and water rates. All proposed budgets and rates were tentatively approved with a final vote set for Sept. 25.

The Commission approved a tentative millage rate at 5.9000 mills for the City for Fiscal Year 2023-24. The current 2022-23 fiscal year millage rate is 5.9244 mills. Millage is a tax rate assessed for each $1,000 of value; one mill is one dollar per $1,000 of assessed value.

The Commission also approved a proposed budget for the City for Fiscal Year 2023-24 with revenue and other financing sources of $43,167,065. City officials say that increased financing sources include an increase in grant funding, implementation of impact fees by the Newberry City Commission and an infrastructure sales surtax.

“The proposed operating budget expenditures are 22.84 percent more than last year’s total,” said Assistant City Manager and Chief Finance Officer Dallas Lee, which he said relates to new grants and the infrastructure sales surtax passed by voters.

These amounts were determined following five public hearings on the proposed property tax and operating millage rate.

Although these rates were approved tentatively, a final vote will take place at 7 p.m., Monday, Sept. 25, at the next scheduled City Commission meeting.

Electric and Water Rates Increased

The Commission unanimously approved increasing residential electric rates by approximately three percent. City officials estimate that the average residential impact will be an increase of $3.42 per month. There were also slight changes to solar interconnections. “Even after these proposed rate changes, the City will offer competitive rates when compared to other utilities,” said Lee.

Also unanimously approved on first reading was Ordinance 2023-27, which approves a seven percent increase in the water charges.

Regarding wastewater, Ordinance 2023-28 was approved on first reading which increases residential customer charges from $9.18 to $10.10 per month. Non-residential customer charges increased from $13.84 to $15.22 per month.

Wastewater usage charges for residential service for Tier 1 (all consumption) increased from $5.98 to $6.58 per thousand gallons (capped at 15,000 gallons). Wastewater usage charges for non-residential (commercial and industrial services) for Tier 1 (all consumption) increased from $7.21 to $7.93 per thousand gallons.

City officials say that additional requirements placed on the City of Newberry by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection are a primary driver of the rate increases in the wastewater system.

Water Storage Project Funding

The Commission also unanimously approved Resolution 2023-51 concerning a loan application for additional water storage capacity that is estimated to be needed within the next five years.

Last year the City of Newberry was awarded funds from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s State Revolving Fund (SRF) to complete a Water Facilities Plan. Of the three alternatives evaluated for providing additional water storage capacity, construction of a new 500,000-gallon elevated water storage tank was the most cost-effective.

The resolution authorizes the City to submit a loan application for project design funds for $566,178. The project will also include construction of a 12-inch water main.

In June 2023, the City was awarded $1 million in a State of Florida Legislative Appropriation, which will be used to pay off the remainder of the planning loan through SRF at $179,300 as well as the engineering design and project management/administration during design fee at $566,178.

The remaining $254,522 from the Legislative Appropriation will be applied toward the estimated $5 million construction phase of the project. City officials say they plan to apply to other funding sources to help defray the construction costs. A waste compensation study was also included on the agenda, but was tabled to the Sept. 25 meeting.

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