Norris budget holds property tax rate

But has steep water, sewer hikes

There will be no increase in Norris property taxes in the fiscal year beginning July 1, but water and sewer customers will see steep rises in their bills – 25 percent for sewer service and 10 percent for water – in the 2022-23 budget approved unanimously by the City Council Monday night.

After about an hour and a half of discussion, the budget was approved on second and final reading nearly as it was submitted to the council Monday night. It calls for total expenditures of $3.05 million against expected revenues of $2.59 million.

The budget holds the property tax rate at the current level – $1.54 per each $100 of assessed value.

A motion by Mayor Chris Mitchell to cut the sewer rate hike to 20 percent for the first six months of the new budget year, adding the additional 5 percent beginning Jan. 1, failed to get a second.

Water Commission members told the council they were in favor of keeping the full 25 percent increase beginning right away, even though it was Mitchell who originally pushed to raise the sewer rates an additional 10 percentage points from the initially requested 15 percent.

Mitchell said he had been canvassing residents and found that with inflation already high right now, people might need at least a temporary break from new pressures on their family budgets.

The water and sewer rate increases still must be approved by ordinance for them to take effect, however.

Councilwoman Loretta Painter made a motion to amend the proposed budget to add $27,000 to pay for another police vehicle. The budget already had provided for one additional vehicle, but the Police Department has two aging Ford Crown Victoria cruisers that need to be replaced.

Her motion passed unanimously.

As for the city budget overall, council members had been told that there is a revenue surplus carrying over from the current year because some of the items the council agreed to spend money on in the 2021-22 budget have yet to be done, including repairs on the fire station roof.

During a public hearing on the new budget on Friday, June 24, some provisions of the proposed budget were still under scrutiny, including $2,500 bonuses and 3 percent cost-of-living pay increases for city employees, and the water and sewer rate hikes. For the current fiscal year, the council last June approved a $1.23 million budget against expected revenues of $1.6 million. Last year, there were no increases in water and sewer rates.

But sewer rates are now on the verge of rising sharply, partly to cover raises for department employees, but also to help pay for an estimated $7 million plan mandated by the state of Tennessee to fix problems associated with stormwater runoff.

Norris currently has no debt, either in the general fund or in the Water Commission, which has a separate budget. But that also could change soon.

Funding of the upgrades to the sewer system are expected to come from grants and new debt, which would be paid for by increased sewer rates for customers. Under state law, the city cannot use property taxes or water rate increases to pay for sewer services.

The 25 percent sewer rate increase in the new budget includes the 15 percent rise sought by the Water Commission to fund employee salaries and raises. But during the June 13 City Council meeting, Mitchell suggested adding $4 to each sewer bill – which the Water Commission said would amount to an additional 10 percent hike in sewer bills -- to begin banking money to pay for the required sewer upgrades.

The mayor said that additional 10 percent increase would generate about $30,000 per year to go toward the sewer system repairs.

The typical water/sewer bill of about $80 will now be approaching $100 a month, which some city officials said would be the highest in Tennessee. That applies only to the 566 of Norris’s total 700 water customers who also have sewer service. Water-only customers do not pay for sewer.

Also added to each customer’s water and sewer bill is the city’s trash-collection fee, which will be raised by $1 for the new budget year, to a total of $6. Mitchell also sought to delay that increase Monday night, but it had already been approved by the council under a separate ordinance.