Consultant proposes Tisbury hike wastewater, trash-removal fees

Tisbury selectmen appointed Ray Tattersall to be the new director of the Tisbury Department of Public Works last week. — File Photo by Janet Hefler

At their regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday night, Tisbury selectmen heard a slate of recommendations for increases in sewer fees and water fees, and the cost of transfer-station vehicle permits.

Douglas Gardner, president of Pioneer Consulting Group, provided selectmen with a lengthy presentation based on his evaluation of Department of Public Works (DPW) and wastewater operations.

Mr. Gardner, in a seven-page report dated Nov. 30, evaluated Tisbury sewer rates and the local refuse drop-off (LDO) fee schedule. Because current rates are not expected to cover future expenses, many recommendations included rate and fee hikes.

Mr. Gardner suggested all sewage customers be charged a quarterly base fee of $100, in addition to the regular charge for all use. The base fee would go toward daily operations, such as meter readings, billings, meter services, and administrative costs. That means all consumers will pay a minimum of $400, regardless of actual water use.

The report recommended the sewer rate, currently at $0.0375 per gallon, be raised to $0.0450 per gallon.

It recommended the town step up efforts to enforce billing collections, including late notices and interest charges after 30 days. The town currently has $49,000 of outstanding collections, which contribute toward rate increases.

Mr. Gardner noted that the septage treatment plant is underutilized, and recommended marketing that service in order to generate more revenue. The report also recommended charging for service calls, including during regular hours, after hours, and for inspection services. That does not include town-related or town-provided equipment problems, Mr. Gardner later noted.

Finally, given the expected amount of necessary capital improvements in the coming years, Mr. Gardner said it would be best to increase reserve funds by nearly five times their current amount.

In addition to wastewater operations and rates, Mr. Gardner looked at the transfer station and associated LDO rates.

The report recommended the $25 vehicle sticker permit fee be raised to $35, plus $25 per additional vehicle, and higher rates be charged for commercial vehicles. It recommended the department request proof of valid vehicle registration for sticker users. Mr. Gardner said senior citizens utilizing disposal services, who currently pay nothing for a sticker, ought to pay $25.

“If you’re disposing of trash, the cost of hauling it off-Island is very high,” he said. “There should be a fee associated with that.”

The report suggested a barrel-fee rate increase from $4.50 per barrel to $5.50. It also proposed installing updated software at the LDO gatehouse.

“What we’re looking to do with the fees is just bring them more in line with the current times and look for sources of revenue that are undercharged,” Mr. Gardner said.

Selectmen had little to say following the presentation. They tentatively agreed to hold a public hearing on Feb. 9 to discuss the proposed rate increases, and look into creating a sewer advisory board separate from the DPW to take a closer look at the recommendations.

Not enough revenue

When Paul Wohler took over as acting director of the DPW, he began evaluating various aspects of the operation, town administrator Jay Grande said. As a result, Mr. Wohler reached out to Mr. Gardner and the consulting group as a means to build a financial picture for the town’s wastewater and trash-removal operations.

Over the course of about eight weeks, Mr. Gardner reviewed financial records, billing records, sources of revenue, and the overall operation, and came up with a number of recommendations based on the department’s assumptions of future events and circumstances for fiscal years 2017, 2018, and 2019.

Mr. Gardner found that the current 2016 fiscal year sewer rates will not generate sufficient revenue to cover expenses, including direct costs, debt service, indirect costs, and capital improvements, for the following three years. That’s the reasoning behind the spike in rates, he said, which will level out over the following fiscal years.