Concerned business owners gathered at Cr-ose Family Restaurant in Washburn on Monday night to discuss a pending water rate increase proposed by Washburn city leaders to finance its ongoing water improvement project.
Pete Rose, president of the Washburn Chamber of Commerce, led the meeting and offered those in attendance with information Rose Enterprises had compiled about water rate increases and the impact it could have on city growth.
One of the statistics offered at Monday's meeting was water rate comparison for an average usage of 6,000 gallons using the new rates proposed for city water users. Based on those numbers, Washburn residents would pay approximately $71.40 for 6,000 gallons under the proposed rate increase.
By comparison, Wheaton residents pay $15 for that amount of water, Cassville residents pay $21.07 and Butterfield residents pay $35. The new rates would also be significantly higher than the $48.10 that is paid for 6,000 gallons of water through the Southwest Rural Water District.
Rose stressed that the figures he was presenting were for water only and had been compiled by Rose Enterprises and had not been reviewed by the Washburn City Council.
"I'm not here to tell you how it got started or how we got here," Rose said. "Tonight I want to discuss where we're going to be. I also want to stress that we're all in this together."
Rose also pointed out a trend in the number of water users. In March of 2006, there were 239 city water users and in January of this year, the number of users had dropped to 225, a 6 percent decrease.
"If this continues, we'll be down to 213 by 2010," Rose said. "I'm not saying that will happen but that's the trend."
According to Rose, the less users, the more the city will be forced to increase water rates to cover the debt incurred for the $1.39 million water improvement project.
The city is also faced with the fact that opportunities to increase the number of water users are diminished due to a number of factors that include higher water rates than surrounding communities and the availability of water service through the Southwest Rural Water District, which surrounds the city.
A decline in the housing market and a growing number of rundown and empty homes could also affect water use numbers, Rose said.
"We are starting a cycle of water rate increases that will cause perpetual increases and we won't be able to stop it," said Rose.
A total of 25 people attended Monday's meeting, and the majority of those present seemed concerned about where Washburn water rates were headed.
Several avenues of action were discussed including a petition drive to get the council to consider stopping the water well project. The reason behind the petition might center on the possibility that voters did not receive correct information in advance of the April 2006 bond issue vote.
To date, the city has drilled a well at a cost of $353,550 but the water tank has not yet been constructed. Engineering costs and other equipment purchases have also been incurred by the city. Rose said exact expense figures would have to be obtained from the city.
Rose and other community members said they would be investigating whether or not stopping the project was a legal alternative for the city.
"If we can show our extreme need, I believe we should be able to convince DNR (the Missouri Department of Natural Resources) we can't go further with the project," said Rose. "With the continuation of the well project, no matter which (water rate) proposal you take, it will be substantial, and that definitely puts us in a tough situation."
Rose also suggested the possibility of hooking into Southwest Rural Water to provide the city with a secondary water source, a need that forced the city to proceed with a bond issue to build a second well.
Rose ended the meeting by urging concerned members of the community to attend the Feb. 11 meeting of the Washburn City Council. That meeting is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. at Washburn City Hall.
"I hope to leave you tonight a little bit more informed," said Rose. "I hope we painted a picture that it doesn't matter how we got here, we're here and we have to get everybody on board.
"Every resident, every landlord, every business owner needs to get involved and it needs to start now," Rose added. "We can't wait; we have to act now."