Graham’s city council will hold a special public hearing Tuesday night to consider higher development fees, specifically higher water and sewer tap and system development fees.
The proposed fee increases had been a part of the budget package that was on the city council’s agenda at its monthly meeting last week.
The water and sewer tap and system development fees are assessed on new subdivisions or other development projects; the intent of the fee system, according to the city, is to fully or at least partially offset the costs of additional public capital facilities and infrastructure that will be needed to meet the demand created by the new development projects.
But mayor Jennifer Talley suggested that the fees section be spun out for a special hearing, now scheduled for Tuesday at 6:00 p.m. at city hall.
Talley insisted to her colleagues that the magnitude of the increases – some are being increased by four to five times the city’s current rates – meant citizens should be apprised of the significance of the increases.
The council’s discussion lasted almost one hour, as Talley was the only member with any reservations about the proposed rates and fees and pressed her colleagues for a delay.
Terming the changes a “complete overhaul of rates and fees” and a “complete re-write,” Talley insisted that “the public needs time for comment.”
An analysis by the city’s engineer, Josh Johnson, was the basis of the proposed new fee schedule.
Councilman Bobby Chin had previously suggested, at earlier budget workshops, that he might want to see only some portion of the proposed new fees implemented.
The council’s agenda packet, or background materials, had two other options, B & C, with 25 percent and 50 percent reductions, respectively, off of Johnson’s proposed fees and rates.
Talley said she was taken aback by Chin’s announcement at the start of the discussion Tuesday night that he no longer favored any reduction from Johnson’s original proposal. “You threw me for a loop,” she told Chin and other city council members.
“We’re only hurting the citizens of Graham to lower our rates and fees,” Chin said several times during the discussion.
Talley said, “We don’t want to stop all development,” questioning whether the rate hikes were so high that they might dampen Graham’s growth, and drawing questions about how Graham’s new rates compared to Burlington and Mebane’s.
It was noted that Graham’s new rates would be higher, for instance, for two- and three-bedroom houses for water and sewer tap-on fees than Mebane’s.
Graham’s new schedule proposes the following for the combination of water and sewer hookup (so-called “tap-on”) fees: 2 bedrooms – $4,519; 3 bedrooms – $6,779; 4 bedrooms – $9,038; and 5 bedrooms – $11,298.
Mebane’s rates are $3,830 for a two-bedroom house and $5,745 for three-bedroom house, thus about 15 percent lower than Graham’s new rates, according to information provided to the council.
“We’ve got an infrastructure that needs to be repaired,” Chin pressed. “The future is now,” he said, urging that the city build up its reserves to handle existing needs and future projects.
Chin acknowledged that the new rates represented a “big jump,” adding, “We’ve been undercharging for years.”
Ultimately, council member Bonnie Whitaker suggested that the council adopt the budget and the pay plan, another supplemental element of the council’s agenda consideration, which passed on a 5-0 vote.
All four other council members indicated they were satisfied with the proposed rate hikes, but Talley persisted in suggesting a separate hearing. “We don’t want a cataclysmic impact,” she cautioned.
Talley ultimately made a motion to continue the fee portion of the budget consideration until Tuesday, June 28. She noted that would allow the public time to contemplate the rate hikes and come before the council if anyone has concerns.
At the same time, she insisted whatever levels are decided on could still be implemented on July 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year, which is also when the new budget takes effect.