City of Houghton holds budget talks

By GARRETT NEESE

gneese@mininggazette.com

HOUGHTON – The Houghton City Council discussed water and sewer rate increases among other topics during a work session on the city’s budget Wednesday night.

The city has a projected general fund budget of $3,239,312, up 0.95 percent from last year.

“I am the new guy here,” City Manager Eric Waara said after the meeting. “I’m not looking to upset the apple cart. The historical management of the budget, at least for the last several decades, has worked. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. There’s going to be some challenges here with looking what we’ve got left to work with after this winter, but I’ve got a good basis to build on.”

Waara said the city might consider a water rate increase of 1.5 percent. This spring’s budget saw some strain due to unplanned winter repairs and thaws. There are also the usual increases for things such as electric prices and supplies.

“Doing a moderate cost-of-living-style rate increase on the water at least yearly will help stave off future shortfalls in there,” Waara said. “You’re not trying to make a profit per se on the water system, but you certainly don’t want to be running nip-and-tuck every year.”

A 1.5 percent increase would bring the fund’s contingency level to about $73,000, Waara said, which could be used for things such as repairs and meter replacements.

In the sewer fund, Waara said residential, Michigan Technological University and Portage Township usage has mostly flatlined. The city’s percentage of payments to the Portage Lake Water and Sewage Authority has been going down, he said.

This year’s payments are at $1.35 million, down from $1.4 million. The extra money will be used for maintenance. Department of Public Works Supervisor Mark Zenner said several storm sewers that split and froze are being repaired.

One number that still has to be finalized is health-care costs. Waara said he is waiting to hear back from insurance agents on price estimates. For now, he is conservatively budgeting for a 20 percent increase. Waara said he should have final numbers on premiums before the budget is due.

“We’re going to keep working with our insurance agents to try to get good numbers, but they can’t get good numbers from corporate,” he said. “So we’re all kind of waiting just like everybody is to see what happens.”