City finance panel looks at utility rates

By Gary Budzak -

The city of Delaware’s finance committee has had two meetings so far this year, and among the topics of discussion are utility rates.

During the most recent meeting, the three-man committee heard city finance director Dean Stelzer talk about some of the city’s utility rates and how they can be imposed.

“We can charge fees to cover our costs, but it has to bear some semblance to what our cost is,” Stelzer said. He said the city can’t use revenue from a particular utility for an unrelated activity.

The city created a storm sewer utility in 1998, Stelzer said, but did not charge a rate until 2001. That rate, $2.50 a month per typical residential unit, has remained unchanged since then. During the committee’s first meeting of the year in March, they received input from Stelzer and recommended increasing the rate to $3.

The increase would generate an additional $160,000 per year, which Stelzer said could go towards replacing curbs and gutters, which would be an appropriate use of the revenue.

“That storm water getting into the street has a spillover effect, which has an impact on road maintenance,” Stelzer said. “Curbs and gutters in Delaware have been a problem as long as I can remember.”

City Manager Tom Homan, who was present at the May meeting, suggested getting proposals for the project first.

Another utility being looked at is the water, sewer and refuse rate. Some city staff have suggested a 2 percent rate hike because of increased electricity usage at the city’s water treatment facility.

However, current reserve balances should be able to stave off a rate hike, Stelzer said. “We’re still comfortable,” he said.

One area where the city has increased its revenue is in its income tax collections for failure to file or failure to pay.

“We hired an additional attorney and it has worked out quite well,” Stelzer said. “We have prosecuted over 450 cases and collected about $250,000 in taxes. We try to do 20 a week in municipal court. Our list still has about 800 names on it from 2014. Down the road, I’m hoping that number isn’t as big because we won’t have to go after so many. There will always be people who don’t pay or don’t want to pay for one reason or another.”

The committee also discussed supplemental appropriations for building or transportation projects.

The finance committee is made up entirely of City Council members. Joe DiGenova is the chair, Chris Jones is vice chair, and Kent Shafer is a member.

By Gary Budzak

Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.

Gary Budzak may be reached at 740-413-0904 or on Twitter @GaryBudzak.