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Berlin seeks bond for electric, public works upgrades

The town council voted 4-0 this week, with Councilman Jay Knerr absent, to approve an application for a $3.8 million bond to the Community Development Administration 2024 Local Government Infrastructure Financing Program.

Berlin Council

Berlin Council

By Charlene Sharpe, Associate Editor

Berlin Town Council members have agreed to pursue a bond to help pay for infrastructure upgrades.

The town council voted 4-0 this week, with Councilman Jay Knerr absent, to approve an application to the Community Development Administration 2024 Local Government Infrastructure Financing Program. Officials are seeking a $3.8 million bond through the process that would fund new electric meters, and $2.8 million to pay for design and construction of a new public works facility.

“A million dollars, $2.8, $3.8 total, it seems scary right? We don’t take that on lightly,” Mayor Zack Tyndall said. “Our finance department doesn’t take it on lightly. Our town administrator, myself, the council, none of us do that on a whim. We’re confident there’s a pathway to be able to pay for these things. We’re confident that we can overcome the additional obligations through some costs savings as well as some partnership on how we spend our overall tax dollars. So we don’t take it lightly and we understand that all of you work very hard for your tax dollars that come in and we’re good stewards of that money.”

Significant needs

Tyndall told the council during a special meeting Monday that the town’s electric department had been stressing the need for AMI electric metering for years, as it would cut down on staff meter reading time and would be more accurate. The new metering is expected to cost about $1 million.

“They’re down to pen and paper right now which is not a good way to be reporting,” he said.

Tyndall said that because the town was interested in the possibility of general obligation bonds to fund the electric meters, it made sense to also include funding for a new public works facility. 

Finance Director Natalie Saleh said there would be an opportunity for the town to participate in a municipal bond issuance in April. 

“Advisable was to come up with all of the potential projects we might need to finance,” she said.

As a result, she recommended the town also seek $2.8 million for a new public works facility. She said officials could plan on a bond not to exceed $3.8 million.

“If we realize we will not utilize the whole amount or realize we don’t need this amount in April we can adjust the number down,” Saleh said. 

She said the public works team currently operates out of a trailer with no heat or air conditioning. While the town has land at Heron Park that could be used for a new facility, water and sewer service would need to be extended to the site and a building would have to be designed and constructed.

The finance administrator said the town’s electric fund could handle the annual debt associated with its portion of the proposed bond, which would be $80,000 to $90,000 a year. She said the general fund portion of the bond tied to the public works facility would come with annual debt of about $185,000. She added that while the funding would be available in May if the town advanced the bond, the first payment, which would be interest only, wouldn’t be until October. The next payment after that would be in April. 

“That gives us time to decide how to fund the general fund debt payment,” Councilman Steve Green said.

Tyndall said the council would be presented with a request for qualifications regarding design services for the new public works facility at its next meeting. He acknowledged that there was a little padding on the proposed price but said he felt the town was in good shape to cover the debt associated with a $3.8 million bond.

Councilman Dean Burrell said he wanted department heads to talk about the needs for the meters and the new building. 

Advantages to upgrading

Electric Utility Director Tim Lawrence said there were numerous advantages to AMI metering. 

He said it would save staff time, as it currently takes his whole team two and a half days to read the meters, and that with the new meters customers would be able to access the data associated with their electric use. He added that when he had his staff using paper and pencil to read meters, mistakes happened and then more time was spent re-reading meters. New meters would eliminate those extra trips.

“You’re saving wear and tear on vehicles, gas, emissions output,” he said. 

AMI metering would also allow for remote disconnects, which would improve safety. 

Public Works Director Jimmy Charles said a new building would allow his staff to better maintain vehicles and equipment. It would also give them space for showers and a kitchen. He said the department could service the town’s police cars, for example, if it had a facility to do so.

“Right now we’re in a tin can,” he said.

Town Administrator Mary Bohlen said the current structure was never meant to be a permanent facility.

“That building was meant to be a temporary solution 45, 50 years ago,” she said.

A first reading of the associated ordinance is expected on Feb. 26, while a public hearing is set for March 11.

This story appears in the Feb. 8, 2024, print edition of the Bayside Gazette.