Beginning in 2018, Seymour residents who pay for water service from Indiana American Water Co. will see a new charge on their bills.
During a meeting Monday night, the city council agreed to cut $445,000 the city pays annually to the water company for use of fire hydrants, moving the cost to water customers.
Technically, residents already pay for the service through their property taxes, they just don’t realize it, Mayor Craig Luedeman said.
The fee will amount to $4.19 per month for all residential water customers or a total of $50.28 per year. Nonresidential properties will be charged based on the size of their water meter, and all not-for-profits, including churches, schools and the hospital, also will have to pay the fee.
The action is a result of needing to shore up the city’s 2018 budget by $330,000 to stay within the 4 percent budget increase allowed by the state.
Council members discussed other options to make cuts, including not giving city employees raises next year and not hiring new police officers, dispatchers and other needed employees for the day-to-day operations of the city.
A third option was to conduct a line-by-line assessment of the entire budget and make each department cut out a certain percentage.
Detective Sgt. Greg O’Brien, who represents the police department during collective bargaining with the city, said there is nothing left to cut in many department budgets, including the police department.
He also said by not giving raises, the city will hurt the departments’ morale and could end up losing employees to higher-paying jobs in other communities.
Removing the cost of the fire hydrants is the only option that gets the numbers where they need to be, creating a slight surplus of more than $100,000, and doesn’t result in cutting employees or services, Luedeman said.
No one from the public really spoke in favor or opposition of the proposal.
Councilman Shawn Malone suggested the city look at potential health care savings and possibly going to a central dispatch center with the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department as another cost-savings measure.
Police Chief Bill Abbott said by having two dispatch centers in two different locations now, there is always a backup if one goes down because of a lightning strike or any other reason.
“You would be asking for a stick of dynamite in a very important operation,” Abbott said by moving to just one dispatch center.
Luedeman agreed health insurance is a major cost to the city, and that is why he is looking at different insurance vendors and possibly new employee health insurance plans that have the potential of helping the city’s budget.
The city now spends between $2.4 and $2.6 million in health insurance costs, triple what it was a decade ago, he said.
Malone said removing the fire hydrant costs from the city’s budget was the best solution for the city as a whole.
“I don’t think anybody would love to take on more, but I don’t think we’re asking too much from any of us to do $4.19 per month. I don’t think anyone would want to compromise the health and safety of our community over $50 a year per person,” he said. “Personally, it’s not another cost I want to incur, but if I think about my family’s safety and this is a better scenario for our city to make sure we don’t have to cut budgets or not pay our police and firefighters, that’s the direction I want to go.”
The city’s 2018 budget and property tax rates will be advertised Thursday on the state’s online Gateway system, gateway.ifionline.org/default.aspx, and then will be passed by the council after two readings in October.
Luedeman said the city’s financial situation is a result of “growing pains.”
“Our services aren’t keeping up with the growth,” he said. “When your expenses are raising 30 to 40 percent a year and your budget can only raise 1 to 2 percent, something’s got to give.”