Town may raise utility
rates and meals tax
 
By Nancy Lindsey
The 2015-2016 town budget may include increases in utility rates and the meals tax, Mayor Ray Weiland told the Stuart Town Council April 15.
The proposed budget reflects a 5% overall increase over the 2014-2015 budget.
Weiland said a 2% increase in utility rates for water and sewer service and garbage collection is being considered, which would be applied over a five-year period.
That would help fund needed upgrades at the sewage treatment plant by providing an additional $26,000 per year, the mayor said.
The town is also being pushed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the primary source of funding for town utility projects, to raise the rates, Weiland said.
"Two percent per year is better than going 10% all at once," Weiland said. "Other localities are going up 10% because they got far behind. We are trying to avoid getting to that point."
The vast majority of town water and sewer users pay the minimum, Weiland said, which would mean an increase from about $46 a month to about $50 at the end of five years.
The town council is also considering raising the meals tax from the current 4% to 5%, which would produce an estimated $75,000, from the current $250,000 to $325,000, according to the preliminary budget.
That money would go toward the building fund for the new station for the Stuart Volunteer Fire Department on Commerce Street, Weiland said.
He said the town could maintain its budget without increases, but needs to do something to fund the special projects.
The budget also includes an average 2% cost-of-living increase for town employees, Weiland said.
The proposed budget includes $861,300 in revenues and expenditures in the general fund; $641,000 in the water and sewer fund; and $165,000 in the sanitation fund, for a total of $1,667,300.
In response to a question from Town Attorney Chris Corbett, Weiland said overall real estate values went down as a result of the county's 2015 reassessment, which could mean a small loss in revenues for the town.
The real estate tax rate is currently 16.4 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Corbett said the rate should be included when the budget is advertised for a public hearing.