HIGH SPRINGS – In spite of a meeting that lasted past 11 p.m. last Thursday, the High Springs City Commission was unable to address all items on the prepared agenda, and scheduled a special commission meeting for Dec. 15.  Considerable debate was spent on the city’s water and sewer rates with Mayor Dean Davis, Vice Mayor Bob Barnas and Commissioner Linda Clark Gestrin voting against raising water, sewer or solid waste rates, despite that the rate increase had been factored into the City’s current fiscal year budget.

Commissioner Eric May said the increase is necessary to keep the City afloat. He said the budget was passed based on a 2 percent increase in water rates, a 1.6 percent raise in sewage rates and a $1 a month charge for all trash customers.

Not passing the increases leaves the City with up to a $70,000 deficit in the budget, finance director Helen McIver said, adding that High Springs needs $38,000 for the sewer system.

Davis refused to support the increase saying the sewer project was not handled the right way. He said all of the older homes should have been connected to the system first, instead of starting with the newer developments.

“Everything was working fine with septic tanks,” he said. “Now, not everyone is hooked up.”

May countered that saying with about half the city on the sewer system, it will continue to be expensive for users unless more of the city is hooked up. He said the fixed cost required to build the facilities is costly for a small group of people to support. If more users were hooked up, the cost would be spread among a greater number of people and the costs would go down for everyone.

Without the funding to keep working on the project, he said the rates will likely never go down.

May said the increase was the responsible thing to do for the City’s future and for residents by raising rates slowly over time rather than hitting customers with a huge increase at a later date.

“It’s not doing anything anybody enjoys doing,” he said. “I have to pay the increase, too. I just don’t want to pass the buck.”

Commissioner Sue Weller agreed, saying it would be “irresponsible” to not pass the increase.

Barnas said there are other solutions and that the City will find them.

May asked several times to hear possible ideas, but nothing was specifically discussed.

Referring to the pending budget deficit, May said, “Seventy-thousand dollars. Where are you pulling that from the budget? That’s not magic money. That’s real money that’s paying for police officers and fire fighters.”

He suggested that raising the solid waste rate by $1 a month would make a significant difference, especially because it has more users than the sewage system.