SALEM — Water and sewer rates are increasing, passed alongside the city's budget for the coming year Thursday night.
The City Council on Thursday night passed the city's planned $169.7 million fiscal 2020 budget, a 4.3% — roughly $7 million — increase over the current spending plan, which ends June 30.
The school district, with $59.8 million, makes up the biggest share of the approved budget, marking a 3.8% jump over the current fiscal year. Employee benefits like retirement and group insurance constitute $28.9 million of the budget, up 9% from fiscal 2019.
The city approved spending $22.6 million on public safety, which includes police, firefighters and the harbormaster's office. The amount is a 2.9% jump over the current budget.
The trash enterprise fund will increase 14.8%, from $3.2 million to $3.7 million, partly due to higher costs for managing trash. City council pulled $300,000 from trash fund earnings to cover cost increases coming out of the current year's expenses.
"The trash contract has increased substantially largely due to the recycling pickup and issues happening overseas," Mayor Kim Driscoll said. "The recycling market has really tanked."
Councilors on Thursday also set new water and sewer rates for the coming year, as well as a proposal to increase trash-throwing rates for non-owner occupied residential rental properties. Under the plan, residential water rates will increase from $3.31 to $3.46 for every 100 cubic feet of water used. Non-residential rates will jump from $4.48 to $4.68 per 100 cubic feet.
Sewer rates will increase for homeowners from $6.71 to $6.91 for every 100 cubic feet of use, while non-residential rates will increase across the board.
"The water and sewer rates are a user-based fee system," Driscoll said. "So whatever we're using needs to accommodate the cost of upkeep and repair, as well as any capital costs."
The changes reflect a 3.8 percent increase overall, according to Driscoll.
"We're still one of the lowest average water and sewer rate usage bills on the North Shore," Driscoll said.
It's unclear what the increased size of the budget will mean for taxpayers when the city sets the property tax rate at the end of the calendar year, according to Deborah Jackson, the city's assessing director. That's in part because several numbers that affect that rate — "new growth" measuring added taxable properties from one year to the next, for example — haven't been locked in.
For the last several years, tax rates have dropped but bills have increased due to climbing property values. Still, there are no guarantees, according to Jackson.
"In a perfect world, everything up 6 percent on value across the board, and it's divided up the same way," Jackson said. "We're seeing some sales that support some higher commercial value, but at this point, I don't know."
WATER/SEWER RATE INCREASES
Category Old New
Water, Residential $3.31 $3.46
Water, Non-Residential $4.48 $4.68
Sewer, Residential $6.71 $6.91
Sewer, Nonresidential, < 25K use $10.16* $10.46
Sewer, Non-Residential, > 25K use $13.01 $13.40
* = The city's ordinances incorrectly have this number as $10.61. The correct old rate is $10.16, according to Dominick Pangallo, chief of staff to Mayor Kim Driscoll