Reluctant City Council eyes raising water/sewer rates
By Bobby Bryant
Darlington City Council knows the timing couldn’t be worse, but council members are reluctantly considering raising the city’s residential water/sewer fees at least $9 a month to shore up those departments’ sagging revenues.
“We’ve just got to get ourselves in line; we are way behind,” Mayor Curtis Boyd said during an April 13 council work session that was held by video because of coronavirus concerns and broadcast live on the city’s Facebook page.
“I’m sorry,” Boyd said. “I’m sure the rest of the City Council is sorry. We don’t want to go up on anything. Now is not the time to want to go up on anything.”
“I will tell you while I’m sitting here, I’m the last person that wants to go up on anything,” said Boyd, who owns a chain of gyms that have been shut down during the coronavirus crisis. “Because of this virus, at this moment, I have zero percent of my money coming in the door. … My gyms are making zero dollars right at this moment.”
“I know what it’s like to not want to raise anybody’s fees. … But it’s going to turn around. We’ll get back to work. But we’ve got to get it to a point that we can fix stuff instead of turning around, looking at (City Manager) Howard (Garland) every day, (wondering) if we have any money.”
“The other issue,” Boyd continued, “is we’ve got all our city employees that we need to take care of. A raise needs to be allotted also to them.”
Raising water/sewer rates would still keep the city in line with other local governments, officials said, nothing that other governments are also planning increases. Officials said under the plan council members were discussing last week, a Darlington customer’s minimum water/sewer bill would increase about $9.
Council members discussed a couple of proposals for dealing with furniture and appliances – mattresses, couches, refrigerators, recliners – that some residents dump on the sidewalk even though the city isn’t supposed to pick up household junk. One proposal would raise sanitation fees to allow the city to pick up any discarded furniture; another suggested fines of about $100 for those who dump furniture on the street.
One problem with the idea of raising fees to finance furniture pickup, Boyd said, is that it might encourage “everybody to put whatever they want by the side of the road.”
“They’re doing that now,” council member Elaine Reed said.
Council member John Milling said: “I’ve lived in (my) neighborhood for 40 years, and I’ve never seen a couch on the side of the road. So you’ve got 40 or 50 homeowners in here who are not abusing the system, and yet, they (would be) required to pay an increase because somebody else in a different neighborhood is creating a problem.”
“I don’t expect (council member) Bryant Gardner to put his lounge chair out in front of his house,” Milling added. “Give some consideration to that as we’re thinking about it, as to how we can word it so that it treats everybody fairly, including those who are not abusing the system by putting out couches and refrigerators and such things as that.”
On another matter, Boyd asked council members to submit ideas for how they would like to see the city’s 116 acres of recreation land developed. The city recently completed the $600,000 purchase of the land off Harry Byrd Highway using previously allocated bond money that was earmarked for recreation uses.
Boyd hopes to submit the council’s ideas for a “master plan” for how the land might be developed. “Everybody throw into the hat what you think you would like to see out there,” Boyd said. “We know we want ballfields. We know we need ballfields. Everything else – a walking trail, a volleyball court, whatever – anything extra is extra.”
Recreation Director Lee Andrews said: “It doesn’t necessarily have to be traditional sports. … I don’t necessarily think that it all has to do with a ball and a glove, or a ball, period. There’s going to be some space out there for green space.”
He said he hoped the city could bring in industries to sponsor certain parts of the recreation complex as it is developed. Boyd said he felt that approach could work.