Washburn discusses sewer rate increase

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Washburn City Council discussed a proposed sewer rate increase at its regularly scheduled meeting on April 9.

"One thing that bothered me in 2008 was that the letters went out with the utility bills that included the sewer rate increase," said Mayor John Tiedeman. "The residents were not notified ahead of time. I don't want us to make them feel like we are hiding anything. I want everything to be above the board."

Tiedeman recommended the council postpone the sewer rate increase until after the 2010-11 fiscal year budget is approved. He suggested the council vote on the issue in September.

"Right now, we are in the red," said Alderman Ray Hayworth. "Many of the problems we have now we have had for a long time. We can have a public hearing, but in the past when we held those hearings, we only had about two people show up.

"Tonight, we have the biggest audience that I have seen in a long time," said Hayworth. "I would like to see people get concerned about all city issues, rather than just get upset when their bills go up."

The council pointed out that any city resident can be placed on the council meeting agenda in order to voice a concern. Complaint forms are also available at the Washburn City Hall to notify city staff members about issues that need to be addressed.

"Individuals who want to be put on the agenda need to call the city hall 24 hours in advance so they can be added to the agenda before it is posted," said Tiedeman. "We always encourage residents to attend our meetings."

Hayworth suggested the council schedule a public hearing regarding the proposed rate increase. The rate will be set after residents have an opportunity to ask questions and make comments about the increase.

"I would agree with putting the issue off on a monthly basis until we feel we have taken all the steps we can to educate the residents, but I don't think we should postpone the issue until the fall," said Hayworth. "We have been having problems for five years, and we have been running in the red for nearly that long. This isn't something we can put off."

Washburn's first sewer rate increase came in April of 2008. At that time, minimum monthly charges were increased from $10.63 to $12.33. The current proposed sewer rate would increase the minimum charge to $13.26, which is an 8 percent increase.

Sewer system improvements and repair costs have increased between 15 and 35 percent over the last two years. The proposed rate would provide the city with $6,840 more in funding for sewer maintenance each year.

The aldermen directed Janie Mulkey, city clerk, to create a presentation regarding the proposed sewer rate increase. The information will be distributed to local residents at a public hearing scheduled to be held in the Southwest High School commons area at 7 p.m. on Thursday, June 10.

During the meeting, the Washburn City Council heard from members of the newly formed Washburn Concerned Citizens Committee. Members questioned the aldermen regarding a utility leak and employee wages.

"The leak is probably something we should have paid more attention to," said Alderman Sara Brattin. "We need to be as aggressive as possible with our water and sewer systems."

City employees are working to repair leaks and plan to schedule several tests to find additional leaks over the next few months.

The alderman also pointed out that city employees did receive a 5 percent wage increase during the 2008-09 fiscal year. No increase was given this year due to current finances.

"It's not that they don't deserve a wage increase," said Brattin. "We just know that any increase rips money away from our residents."

In other business, the Washburn City Council:

* Heard that the Washburn Concerned Citizens Committee plans to meet at the Washburn City Hall.

* Scheduled a city wide yard sale to be held on June 4 and 5. Residents must obtain a permit to participate in the event.

* Read the April 6 election results. Alderman Sherry Cox, who retained her seat on the council, was sworn in.

* Heard that a run-off election will be held to determine who will hold the west ward alderman seat. Hayworth and challenger Gerald Hinde both received 25 votes during the recent municipal election.

* Directed Mark Brooks, city utility employee, to research grant options for a street improvement project.

* Heard that Tiedeman will attend an emergency preparedness and response training exercise in Branson on May 4.

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