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Chambersburg residents looking at rate hikes, officials say

August 20, 2003

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Sewer, sanitation and some other rates and fees for Chambersburg residents could be going up in 2004 due to a combination of reduced state subsidies, higher landfill fees and declining sales of borough services.

For years, Pennsylvania has subsidized municipal sewer systems through Act 339, which the state has failed to budget this year, according to Borough Manager Eric Oyer. That would represent a loss of about $160,000 to the system, or about 5.5 percent of its revenues, he told the council Tuesday during his budget review for the first six months of this year.

Sewer rates have gone up in each of the last two years to help pay for a major expansion of the borough's wastewater treatment facility. Even with the 10 percent increase that went into effect this year, Oyer said revenues are up just 7.5 percent because the number of units being billed has fallen 2.5 percent.

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"I think we're looking at a continuing series of sewer rate increases, including at least 15 percent in 2004," Oyer wrote in the report. That would mean an increase in the average monthly residential sewer bill from $14.32 this year to $16.47 next year, he said.

"That's still a very reasonable sewer rate," according to Oyer. With that increase, the annual rate would be just under $200, which he said compares favorably with rates of 20 other communities with similar wastewater construction projects.

The range for those communities went from a low of $212 to a high of $1,090 per year, he said.

The water system has seen a 3.4 percent decrease in billed units and a 2.1 percent dip in revenues for the first half of 2003, but Oyer said it was too early to tell if a rate increase will be necessary for that utility.

The borough may see its first trash pickup fee increase since 1992, Public Works Director Bob Wagner told the council. Borough residents pay $8.50 per month for trash collection, compared to an average of $18 per month for residents of the surrounding townships, who must contract with private haulers for garbage collection.

"Over the years, we've added things to sanitation," Wagner said, including leaf and Christmas tree collections, as well as state-mandated recycling.

Last year, the state also added a $4-per-ton fee for landfills to help make up the state's deficit. The borough has benefited from having two landfills in Franklin County competing for its business, but Wagner said the current contract of $27 per ton is about to expire.

A 15 percent increase in the sanitation fee could be needed, depending on the length and terms of the next landfill contract, Wagner said.

Fees for building permits in Chambersburg are about half those of neighboring communities, according to Assistant Borough Manager David Finch. He said the council may consider increasing fees, but made no recommendation as to a figure.

Chambersburg charges $2 per $1,000 for the first $40,000 of a project and $1 for every $1,000 above that figure. That makes the cost of a building permit for a $100,000 home $140.

Building permits have not increased since 1990, according to Finch.

The council also discussed raising the $10 annual inspection fee and $20 re-inspection fee for rental housing. In its first year, the cost of the inspections exceeded the fees collected by about $30,000.

Council will get its first look at the 2004 budget at its Oct. 14 meeting.

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