Some might see a larger bill starting next month, as the City of Milton looks to raise rates on sewer and water utilities nearly 18 percent over the next five years.
"It's the cost of doing business," said Mayor Guy Thompson. "When you look at our rates, compared with ECUA and Okaloosa County, we're about medium. We're not the highest and we're not the lowest. We're not gouging anybody."
The mayor cited escalating operating and maintenance costs drove the need for a rate hike. Milton is a 150-year-old city, with clay sewer pipes in some areas. Thompson said the City is constantly upgrading the infrastructure, laying new pipes. Ancillary expenditures, mainly rising health insurance costs for employees added to the need for an increase, according to the mayor.
"[Health insurance rates] impacted our budget," Thompson said. "We're a small city and it hurts."
Thompson said the city council briefly discussed raising property taxes to address operating and maintenance costs associated with the City's infrastructure, but the council did not pursue the notion.
"I would rather see an increase come in one of our services than to put it on the taxes," Thompson said. "We're spreading the costs out to more people."
He said it seemed more fair to raise the rates on those using the system, instead of leaving the financial burden to property owners within the city limits.
"It's a much more fair way where more people pay a little less," Thompson said. "[Property taxes] placed the burden on too few."
The City purchased Sundial Utilities, a sewer system serving the Bagdad area earlier in May of this year for $3 million. The City is currently expanding sewer services into areas along Ward Basin Road from Highway 90 to just south of Interstate 10. The current wastewater treatment plant will be relocated to the Industrial Park in East Milton, with an estimated price tag of around $24 million.
The funds generated from city utilities are enterprise funds, which are put back into the utilities to keep them running and maintain the expected level of service from the public, according to the mayor. At the same time, the profits are placed in the city's general funds, which pay for police and fire services, a majority of the city's operating budget.