The Town of Frankford is set to raise its water rates as it struggles to balance its budget for the new fiscal year.
The town council was set to hold a final special meeting this week to discuss the Town’s budget, on Thursday, July 26, at 6 p.m. At a similar meeting July 19, a rate increase from $8.75 to $12.68 per 1,000 gallons used was discussed, and Town Council Secretary/Treasurer Velicia Melson said the increase must be implemented to help address a budget shortfall.
“The increase was voted for by a previous council and not implemented,” Melson said earlier this week. “In order to be financially responsible and balance the next budget, we must implement the increase,” she said.
While the increase was expected to be a key topic of discussion at the July 26 meeting, Melson said she does not think it will change from the previously approved $3.93 increase. “I don’t foresee the number changing in this fiscal-year budget,” she said.
In addition to the increase of $3.93 per 1,000 gallons used per billing cycle, out-of-town users will see their flat user rate increasing from $20 per billing cycle to $50 per billing cycle. The Frankford water plant serves about 350 users, including approximately 20 who live outside town limits.
The increase is needed to offset revenue lost to the Town when the Mountaire feed operation in the town built its own on-site water plant and ceased using town water.
“This increase will minimize the loss of revenue from Mountaire,” Melson said. “However, the increase will not make the water plant profitable. We still operate at a loss of $2,200 annually,” she said.
The Town lost about $60,000 in annual revenue when the Mountaire water system began operation — about half its annual water revenue.
Council Vice President Greg Welch had said at the council’s last regular meeting, on July 2, that the Town is waiting for word from the U.S. Department of Agriculture regarding possible help with upgrading the Town’s perennially struggling water plant. He said an environmental review was done a year ago and “they’re waiting on a couple other things,” and he has not heard anything further.
Welch said the Town has missed payments on a loan from the state Office of Drinking water for the water system.
“That’s how we’re staying solvent; we’re not paying our bills,” Welch said. The state drinking water office had offered to forgive the loan if the Town added fluoride to its water, which was done briefly but then ceased. The State of Delaware requires all municipal water systems in the state to fluoridate their water.
Welch said then-town solicitor Chad Lingenfelder had been dealing with the state drinking water office, but Lingenfelder was dismissed in May. The council has met with a potential replacement and may name a new town solicitor at its next regular meeting.
The council is set to vote on the Town’s proposed budget at the July 26 meeting. The next regular town council meeting is set for Monday, Aug. 6, at 7 p.m.
By Kerin Magill