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Sanitation falls behind in bills; rate hike still being sought

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By Thomas Barr

  HILLVIEW - County officials moved a little closer to allowing a sanitation district to realize some additional revenue each year with asking for permission.

But it will take an amendment to a proposed ordinance to make that happen.

Bullitt Fiscal Court members requested county attorney Monica Robinson revise a proposed ordinance which would allow the Bullitt County Sanitation District to raise rates based on the October Consumer Price Index.

Before the matter will be voted upon, however, specifics will be included in the ordinance to detail the CPI numbers that would be used to calculate the annual increases.

After fiscal court failed to grant a 3 percent rate increase for each of the next three years, sanitation commissioners recently proposed the CPI hike.

The district was granted a 1.5 percent increase for the current year.

Under the estimated CPI, commission chairman Chuck Callahan said the average customer would see an increase of about 60-70 cents per month on their bills.

If approved, the October CPI percentage would be used to determine rate increases for the upcoming year. However, Robinson pointed out that fiscal court could override those rate increases if it deems necessary.

District manager Jerry Kennedy said there is no doubt the district needs the money. The only way to generate additional revenue is through rate increases and more tap-ons. With the stagnant economy, few new tap-ons have been sought in the past few years.

Kennedy said he proved in February that the district needed the money and those needs are still there today.

Thanks to vendors who are patient in getting bills paid, Kennedy said the district has been able to survive. But he quickly outlined past due bills amounting to over $50,000, as well as structural improvements of over $100,000 which are needed to keep the Bullitt Hills plant in operation.

The 1.5 percent hike will generate about $28,000 in new revenue; however, Kennedy said the seven treatment plants and the collection lines are all around 50 years of age and they are in need of constant repairs.

Magistrate Ruthie Ashbaugh discussed the possibility of putting a 3 percent maximum limit on the rate increases due to the CPI.

Kennedy said that would not help the district if the CPI ever reached that point.

“We need the revenue,” said Kennedy.

Callahan said everything is going up and employees have not had pay increases for several years.

And, he said the equipment is in need of repairs.

Commissioner Donald Watkins said he could live with the 3 percent cap on the CPI.

Magistrates Rick Clements and Bradshaw both said they received calls from customers against any rate increase.

And magistrate Joe Laswell, whose district primarily takes in the area currently being served by the district, said his constituents are against any type of rate increase.

Laswell went a little further by stating that there were things in the past audit that he didn’t like. When pressed for specifics, Laswell said those issues had been discussed with the district previously.

Kennedy said he wanted to know what the magistrate was talking about because the audit came back with no problems.

“What’s the problem with the audit?” inquired Kennedy, who said Laswell was welcome to attend any of the regular district board meetings to air his issues.

And when three new commissioners were appointed, they agreed to retain Robinson as legal counsel, which saved the district about $30,000 a year.

The question posed by Ashbaugh was what would happen if the sanitation district couldn’t pay its bills and decided to shut down.

Laswell said that wasn’t going to happen.

But Kennedy said it could and he felt it would fall back in the laps of county government.

Clements said customers in Mount Washington have experienced rate increases for utilities in the past and no one likes it. However, he said everyone wants the services.

His concern was whether the CPI increase would be enough to solve the problems. He knew the consensus would be that you don’t increase rates until you have to.

But Kennedy said in the 11-plus years of operation, the district’s only rate increase before 2012 was about seven years ago.

The amended ordinance will be discussed once again during a special meeting of Bullitt Fiscal Court, which is set for Tuesday, Oct. 30, at 9:30 a.m. in the courthouse. The public is invited to attend.