DOBSON — While no property tax increases are expected in the town of Dobson, critical infrastructure improvements could mean a hike in the town’s water and sewer rates starting next year.
That was the message delivered by town officials during the annual budget retreat for the Dobson Board of Commissioners. The meeting was held in a meeting room of the Hampton Inn in Dobson.
During the meeting, Public Works Director Michael Frazier told the board that the age of many of the systems and pumps in the town means constant repairs to keep the system running.
“We didn’t have a very good year this year, and we’re not expecting to have a very good year next year,” he said.
According to Frazier, multiple pumping stations are “at least” 35 years old, and “every bit of it is starting to show signs of age.”
“We are going to have to start working on them, whether it’s in next year’s budget or not,” he said, noting that many of the “big ticket” repairs are going to cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
“This is going to require the town borrowing money, I’m afraid,” Frazier said. “And unfortunately, I think the worst part is we’re at the point where we’re going to have to work on stuff continuously.”
While a total dollar figure was not available, Town Manager Josh Smith said it could mean the town will need to borrow millions of dollars.
“The best course of action, I think, and the most efficient way to do it is to bite the bullet, take out a loan and group the repairs into one or two projects,” he said. “I think that’s kind of where we’re at. We can’t wait much longer.”
Improvements suggested by Frazier include improvements to the town’s water treatment plant that he believes will be more than $1 million, wastewater handling improvements of more than $100,000, and improvements to the town’s collection and distribution systems to repair aging infrastructures and upgrade aging pumps.
Smith said the town’s water rates are $15 for the first 2,000 gallons of water and wastewater, and $2.50 per 1,000 gallons of water thereafter.
“The total bill for a customer who uses 5,000 gallons of water is about $45,” Smith said. “We’ve kept the rates low enough that they’re affordable, but we need to invest in the system and I’m afraid that’s going to require some rate increases.”
Frazier said he understands what a burden the investments will place on the town, and suggested they could be spread across several years.
“The question is do we increase rates incrementally over the next several years, or do it all at once,” Smith said. “We have some room to work with, and no one likes raising rates and fees, but we definitely need to strongly consider per-use or base rate increases.”
Town officials are expected to look at the matter further and come back to the board at a later date with a recommendation.
But town officials aren’t expecting to have to raise property taxes next year.
Smith told the board that he doesn’t see any reason to raise the town’s property tax rate of 38 cents per $100 in value, a rate that has remained steady in the town since the early 1980s.
Dobson has a combined general fund and water/sewer fund budget of about $2.5 million, with about $1.5 million in unrestricted funds.