By Logan Watson
Less than two months after approving increases for water and electric rates, the Trenton Light & Water Board of Directors is once again grappling with the high cost of doing business.
As inflation and high fuel costs continue to trickle down from business to customer, the Board faces a very tight budget heading into the new fiscal year, as well as the possibility of another rate increase in the future.
During the Financial Report, Utility Manager Joe Wamble explained to the Board that the costs of the chemicals needed for water and wastewater departments has been consistently rising for the last 18 months.
“We can’t operate our system without the proper chemicals,” Wamble told the Board at their monthly meeting on Friday, June 24. “We got one email Wednesday, and we got two yesterday. They’re increasing their prices. Chemicals are going up.”
Last month, TL&W paid more than $8,500 to one vendor for water and wastewater chemicals alone.
“We didn’t used to have expenses like that,” Wamble said. “They’ve gone up seven or eight times what they used to be. We might see some more as we get into the budget. Everything that we touch is going up. Transformers are three times what they were two years ago, and they’re a year out. If you buy a new bucket truck right now, you may get it in 2026. This stuff’s hard to get.”
When Board member Cece Jones asked if the rate increases would cover TL&W’s rising costs, Wamble stated that the water budget would be very tight, but the utility is still projected to be in the black next fiscal year.
“Electric is ok for now,” Wamble said, “but it won’t be five or seven years down the road before we have to do another rate increase. I’m afraid those days are gone. It’s real tight on the water, but [the rate increases] will definitely help.”
Wamble stated that TL&W is watching the budget “with a microscope.”
“We don’t want to raise rates on anything,” he said.
“Anybody that’s buying groceries right now is going to know,” said Mayor Ricky Jackson. “Everything is going up. It’s not just the groceries. It’s not just the gas. It’s everything.”
The Board approved the budgets for the electric, water and wastewater departments for FY 2022-23, with no major concerns being expressed for the electric budget. Wamble did note that sales are down in the water department, with multiple contributing factors, including possible leaks. The 2022-23 water budget has $25,000 allotted for paving, but with the rising cost of hot mix, a petroleum product, fewer holes could be patched during the next fiscal year.
“It would not surprise me to have to do another water increase in the next couple of years,” Wamble said. “We are watching the sewer department like a hawk. We can’t afford to let this thing get behind. We’re not in bad shape, but we’re watching everything to keep from getting in bad shape. Considering everything that we’ve lived through in the last two years, I think we’re in good shape. This is the narrowest margin of profit that we’ve ever had on all three departments. It’s a little bit uncomfortable, but in the times that we’re living in, we’re very, very pleased to be in a positive number. However it shakes down, we feel like we can live by these numbers.”
TL&W is awaiting approval from the USDA on the hazardous materials abatement process but expects that demolition of the old facility on Armory Street will begin in late August or September.
Wamble also introduced Bridgette Hill, who is training with Office Manager Jenny Corbin. Hill will be taking over Corbin’s duties when she retires later this year.