REDINGTON SHORES — A sewer rate increase from the county will likely be passed along to the town’s residents. That was the opinion a majority of commissioners expressed at their Aug. 28 workshop after a lengthy discussion of the rate increase and its impact on the town’s budget.

The sewer rate from the county is going up 9.5% each year for the next four years. By the fourth year, rates will be 43% higher than they are now. In the past, there have been increases from the county that the town just absorbed rather than charge residents a higher rate.

If the town were to pay this increase, nearly $200,000 would have to be taken out of surplus to balance the budget just this year, Commissioner Michael Robinson said. Even more would need to come out of the surplus in future years.

An approximate $1.6 million surplus is currently in the town’s sewer fund, which Commissioner Jeff Neal said could disappear “really quick” if the local sewer infrastructure has a problem.

Passing the county sewer rate increase on to residents will need to go through an approval process that will take several months. The first step was taken when the commission voted in a special meeting after the workshop to start the process of creating an ordinance and holding public hearings. Next, two hearings need to be advertised and scheduled a month apart for residents to comment and commissioners to vote.

Robinson said there would not be time to complete that process before the December sewer billing cycle, so even if the commission approves the rate increase residents will not see the higher billing until next year.

Most commission members favored passing through the higher sewer rates to the residents.

“We ought to pass (the increase) on,” said Commissioner Pat Drumm said, “because if we continue to eat up the surplus and the infrastructure has a problem, we are not going to have the money to pay for it.”

Mayor MaryBeth Henderson said the town could possibly pay part of the increase, sharing its impact with the residents.

But Robinson said, “The county created this problem for us. It’s their problem. We need to pass on the cost. We can’t afford to absorb it.”

“Pass through the increase. I don’t think we’ve got a choice,” said Commissioner Tom Kapper.

At this point, the commission was not voting on whether to increase the rates. But a vote was taken to “start the process,” which, based on the commissioners’ comments, will likely result in residents paying a 9.5% sewer rate increase each year for the next four years. The topic will be discussed further, with residents’ comments, at public hearings to be scheduled in upcoming months.

A separate issue that has been under consideration for some time is a change in the method of calculating the sewer bill. The town has been looking at switching from a flat fee, based on the number of bathrooms, to a charge based on water usage, or a combination of the two. Several commissioners expressed the opinion that it would not be a good idea to change the methodology at this time.