MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Sewer rates are likely to be increased sometime in the coming year as township officials look for ways to offset the rising cost of sending flow to the Cape May County Municipal Authorities Utility.
Put simply, Middle’s year-round population is growing while other parts of the county that send to the MUA are shrinking, officials said at the Feb. 5 committee work session. Since all municipalities that send to the authority pay a share based on their flow, Middle’s share of the cost is growing, while other municipalities are paying less.
Middle’s sewer budget is roughly $4.5 million. Of that, about $1.4 million is debt service for the capital costs of the system and $2.5 million is paid to the MUA, said Business Administrator Elizabeth Terenik.
In 2017, sewer budget expenses were $170,000 more than was budgeted. This year, the budget shortfall is likely to be $470,000, she said
“We’re not collecting enough in expenses versus our costs,” Terenik said. “Our MUA billing has increased more than the proportion of our flow, since our flow increased, while other towns’ flow decreased.”
Currently, residential users pay a flat sewer rate of $140 a quarter. Commercial users have a variable rate based on flow and many of the commercial users are metered, Terenik said.
“There’s a structural deficit in our sewer budget,” said Committeeman Tim Donohue. “We’ve had two increases in the rate in 25 years.”
Donohue, too, said the township’s population growth is a mixed blessing. As Middle grows, so do ratables and businesses. But so does flow to the MUA.
“Other towns are shrinking, and our piece of the pie to the MUA is growing,” Donohue said.
According to township records, the residential sewer rate in 1998 was $460 a year, or $115 a quarter. The rate was increased in 2011 to $560 a year, or $140 quarter.
Commercial rates varied from $460-$520 per year per unit for metered properties, and $520 per year minimum for unmetered properties plus $0.006 per gallon of flow.
Last week, during the work session, Terenik proposed keeping the residential rate flat, and increasing commercial rates to $640 per year plus $0.00935 per gallon of flow for metered and unmetered properties.
Terenik said she based the proposal on recommendations made by a team of employees from the finance, sewer and billing offices.
Changes to the rate would likely have a benefit that went beyond evening out the ratio of expenses verses costs, she said. The rate structure should encourage water conservation, pushing commercial properties to install low-flow toilets and showers.
Terenik also said the current threshold of 86,400 gallons before charging for flow was too high and recommended cutting that by more than half to 40,000 gallons. That would also encourage water conservation, she said.
Stanley Doniger, a Rio Grande resident, asked why all township properties — residential and commercial — weren’t metered for their sewer use. “We just paid $2 million to the MUA,” he said. “It’s time to bite the bullet and put the meters in.”
While Terenik and Donohue both agreed that meters would likely one day have to be installed, it’s an expensive proposition.
“We have to work toward putting meters in, but it’s very expensive,” Terenik said.
“We understand the need,” Donohue said. “But that has to be part of a long-term plan. For now, we need a stop gap to get the sewer budget on track.”
Committee took no action, and Terenik said this week that her proposal during the work session would likely be adjusted.