City passes budget, implements new fee
by JOYANNA LOVE Banner Senior Staff Writer
May 13, 2014 | 1050 views | 0 0 comments | 11 11 recommendations | email to a friend | print

The Cleveland City Council passed a $241,538,086 budget, keeping the tax rate at $1.7655 per $100 of assessed value during a meeting Monday.

The 22 individual funds include city budgets, Cleveland City schools budget and the Cleveland Utilities budget.

“To have the budget you have put together without a tax increase is remarkable,” Mayor Tom Rowland told city staff during the meeting.

The approved budget reflected changes to the sales tax funds decreasing the approved amounts to compensate for an initial overestimation of the available fund balance, according to Janice Casteel, city manager.

“We overestimated the fund balance we had to work with for 2015, so we had to make several changes in there for cash flow purposes,” Casteel said.

Changes included not funding contingences for some projects, phasing in upcoming projects and decreasing the amount for Public Works vehicles. Casteel said one needed piece of equipment for Public Works had been purchased through the Solid Waste fund, making the decrease easier to make without negatively affecting the department.

The city’s general budget will be $40,647,450. The budget includes $1,501,000 for the capital improvements program. The budget also transfers funds for the new Cleveland High School gymnasium to replace the structurally unsafe Raider Dome.

New revenue for stormwater projects is being created in the budget through the implementation of a stormwater fee.

“What was proposed was [by] meter size. In talking to the MTAS (Municipal Technical Advisory Service), we are not able to implement a stormwater fee based on the meter size, but we can accomplish the same thing … we have to use the ERU (Equivalent Residential Unit) in order to determine who is charged the higher rate,” Casteel said.

For the 2014-15 fiscal year, residential Cleveland Utility sewer customers and some commercial customers will be charged $1 a month. Commercial customers with more than 2,500 square feet of impervious area (areas that do not allow water to permeate) will be charged $2 a month.

“They can come to us if they feel they don’t have 2,500 of impervious, then we can change theirs from $2 to $1. Of course, we want the citizens to understand this lower fee is only for the study, then it gives us about $50,000 to $75,000 for projects. This is so that we can implement a stormwater program, but you have to have this study done first and determine the impervious on every parcel. We have to also establish a process where they can appeal what their fee would be,” Casteel said.

The initial fee will be used to hire a consultant to determine the impervious surface area of Cleveland Utilities sewer customers within the city limits. After the study is complete each sewer customer will have a different rate based on the ERU.

Having the stormwater study will allow the city to apply for grants for future stormwater projects. These grants would require a 35 percent match from the city. The remaining 65 percent would come from federal funding. This match could be paid through the stormwater fee once it is fully implemented.

The fee will not be charged for sewer customers outside the city.

“It seems like people are not as concerned about the $1 a month as what’s coming down the pipe,” District 4 Councilman David May said.

He said he had received calls from some who were concerned “that they would get hit pretty hard” when the fee program was fully implemented.

In a previous meeting, development and engineering director Jonathan Jobe said credits can be created for those with detention ponds to decrease the fee charged.

May said the city needs to ensure that people are informed about the fee and that the amount will not come as a surprise.

“We hope to finish the study within the next 12 month period, so that this time next year we will have been through a very vigorous public process,” Casteel said.

May said holding public, informational meetings about the full implementation of the program would be a good idea.

Rowland also suggested meeting with someone from the county about having a similar study done. In the past, the city had asked the Bradley County Commission to approve funding a flood study 50/50, but the county objected.

The budget also increases the street cut fee from $200 to $256. The increase was implemented to cover the actual cost of patching roads that have been cut into.