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Milford Beacon
  • Residents speak out against Harrington sewer, tax rate increases

  • Last month, Harrington’s elected officials unanimously approved a 35-cent increase in the city’s property tax rate, from 71 cents per $100 of assessed value to $1.06 – an increase of 49 percent. Harrington City Manager Teresa Tieman said the rate hike would translate to a property tax bill increase of $135.45 for the average Harrington home, which is assessed at $38,700.
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    • BY THE NUMBERS

      PREVIOUS AVERAGE WATER BILL (PER QUARTER) $96.17


      NEW AVERAGE WATER BILL $81.80


      PREVIOUS AVERAGE SEWE...

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      BY THE NUMBERS

      PREVIOUS AVERAGE WATER BILL (PER QUARTER) $96.17



      NEW AVERAGE WATER BILL $81.80



      PREVIOUS AVERAGE SEWER BILL (PER QUARTER) $236.17



      NEW AVERAGE SEWER BILL $278.44



      AVERAGE ASSESSED HOME VALUE $38,700



      PREVIOUS TAX RATE 71 cents per $100 of assessed value



      PREVIOUS AVERAGE TAX BILL (ANNUALLY) $274.77



      NEW TAX RATE $1.06 per $100 of assessed value



      NEW AVERAGE TAX BILL (ANNUALLY) $410.22



      Source: Harrington City Manager Teresa Tieman

  • A 35-cent hike in the property tax rate might not seem like a lot of money, but it can add up quickly.
    Just ask Harrington residents Aaron and Loretta Quarles, who live on a fixed income and are already dealing with hefty medical bills.
    “They could have done it gradually,” Loretta said Monday after a public forum Price Community Center, in which about 50 Harrington residents expressed their frustrations over recent city council votes that increased the local property tax rate and changed the way the city bills for water and sewer. “It’s going to impact us severely.”
    Last month, Harrington’s elected officials unanimously approved a 35-cent increase in the city’s property tax rate, from 71 cents per $100 of assessed value to $1.06 – an increase of 49 percent. Harrington City Manager Teresa Tieman said the rate hike would translate to a property tax bill increase of $135.45 for the average Harrington home, which is assessed at $38,700.
    Friendship Village resident Aaron Quarles, a senior citizen who recently underwent major surgery and is facing a $10,000 a month pharmacy bill, said that’s still a lot for he and his wife to swallow.
    “I just think a 49-percent rate increase without notice is taxation without representation and causes senior citizens a real hardship,” he said.
    Harrington’s billing formula for sewer and water also was recently changed with both services now charged according to usage instead of the city’s former flat rates of $96.17 for the first 20,000 gallons of water usage and $140 for the first 20,000 gallons of sewer usage. With the changes, the average home’s sewer bill will increase by about $42 per quarter while the average water bill will see a decrease of about $14 per quarter, Tieman said.
    Harrington Mayor Anthony Moyer said Monday that the billing change would allow residents to control their bills by individually managing their utility usage.
    But several residents in attendance at Monday’s meeting argued that Moyer and city council members slacked on informing residents of their plans to change the property tax rate and how water and sewer usage are billed.
    “The people of the city of Harrington, they don’t have any say,” resident Nate Minner said. “I found out when I got the bill. The people of the city of Harrington are disappointed. Very disappointed.”
    Tieman said the city mailed about 2,200 letters out to inform residents of the first public meeting in which changes to the sewer and tax rates were discussed. City officials said a total of five meetings about the proposed hikes were held in April, which were attended by less than 65 residents l.
    Page 2 of 2 - “We really wanted people to understand why we were doing it,” Tieman said. “As a city manager, I hated doing it, but I also have a responsibility to make sure I’m leaving them in a stable financial condition. You can’t keep taking money out of your reserves and not address your infrastructure.”
    Tieman said the rates were adjusted to help offset debt service and increased costs affiliated with the town hooking up to the Kent County Wastewater Treatment Plant near Milford, a decision that was made after an overflow issue at Harrington’s wastewater treatment plant in 2009, followed by a Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control mandate that forced the city to find a solution to its sewer treatment challenges.
    Harrington opted to install a $7.1 million force main to connect to the Kent County Treatment Plant, a majority of which was covered by grants, Tieman said. But the city is still responsible for $4.25 million of that project, in addition to paying off other projects, she said.
    Tieman added that there the possibility exists for a future reduction in the tax and sewer rates once that debt is paid down.
    In addition to costs affiliated with wastewater treatment, Tieman said the increases also prompted by a move to better handle the city’s finances. Previously, revenue from water, sewer and taxes were lumped together and transferred to the general fund as needed. Now, those proceeds will be handled separately so money can be allocated appropriately to plan for future infrastructure projects, like addressing the city’s inflow and infiltration issues, which currently cost the city an estimated $185,000 per year in treatment costs, she said.
    “The whole goal behind the rate study was to make sure our rates were fair and adequate to sustain our system,” Tieman said. “It’s a shared responsibility. I know citizens are more stressed than ever … it’s a stressful time, and we battle with that.”
     
    BY THE NUMBERS
    PREVIOUS AVERAGE WATER BILL (PER QUARTER) $96.17
    NEW AVERAGE WATER BILL $81.80
    PREVIOUS AVERAGE SEWER BILL (PER QUARTER) $236.17
    NEW AVERAGE SEWER BILL $278.44
    AVERAGE ASSESSED HOME VALUE $38,700
    PREVIOUS TAX RATE 71 cents per $100 of assessed value
    PREVIOUS AVERAGE TAX BILL (ANNUALLY) $274.77
    NEW TAX RATE $1.06 per $100 of assessed value
    NEW AVERAGE TAX BILL (ANNUALLY) $410.22
    Source: Harrington City Manager Teresa Tieman

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