CLINTON — The city of Clinton’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget is beginning to take shape.

The Clinton City Council on Monday held its first official FY 2019 budget planning meeting in the council chambers at City Hall, tackling the city’s Sewer Fund. Council members didn’t hear the best of news, with city Finance Director Anita Dalton and Water Quality Superintendent Bob Milroy reporting to the council an FY 2019 fund deficit of $817,346.

That negative balance is forcing officials to potentially discuss a sewer rate increase for the upcoming fiscal year, with the increase also possibly helping to fund projects involved in the city’s Long Term Control Plan to separate all city storm and sanitary sewer lines.

The LTCP is part of the city’s compliance with the Clean Water Act. Roughly $43 million has been committed by the city to complete all necessary LTCP projects. The fund deficit also is prompting conversations among council members and department heads regarding exactly how to cut costs and, more importantly, generate revenue among the departments associated with the Sewer Fund.

They’re not simple conversations to have, council members heard Monday.

“I know on my side of this budget, I don’t know where else I can cut costs,” Milroy said. “Some of the ‘cost-saving’ stuff, we’ve done over the last several years... but you can only cut so much. We can take things out of the budget to lower (the deficit), sure. But then when something comes up, we’ll be standing up here doing a budget amendment.”

Council members and department heads know that a potential rate increase will be a hot topic in the coming weeks and months. Information distributed ahead of Monday’s meeting indicated a targeted increase of 7.5 percent for FY 2019, though that number is slated to change upon future discussion.

Some council members feel the rate increase should be an absolute last resort when it comes to improving the health of the Sewer Fund and completing future necessary projects.

“The things we probably need to do aren’t going to amount to enough to cover the expenses of (LTCP projects), I understand that,” councilman Cody Seeley said. “But instead of a 7.5 (percent increase) we only need a 2.5, I think the folks would be a lot happier with that. But I’m not comfortable doing anything until I know we’ve done everything.”

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