On Thursday, Cassville residents packed the Cassville City Hall council chambers to listen to an informational presentation by Eugene Dilbeck, city administrator. The presentation laid out the reasons the city needs to increase water and sewer rates in the near future.
"I appreciate you all coming out to become informed on the discussion on the water and sewer rates," said Dilbeck. "We planned this informational session to help you understand why we need to raise the rates. On Nov. 3, we will hold a public hearing to hear from you, the citizens, about the proposed rate increase."
Dilbeck's presentation included information on the city's failing infrastructure, government regulations that are forcing the city to make changes in the operation of its utilities and the city's current finances.
"I think at the end of this presentation you will see what the council and the staff knows, and that is that we don't have a choice," said Dilbeck. "The question is how much and how to move forward with the plan."
Dilbeck presented photographs of rust, internal decay and exterior paint cracking on the city's water towers and tanks, cracked water pipes and undersized lines that are used to transport drinking water to citizens.
"We are having more than one break a week now," said Dilbeck.
The city administrator also reported that three-quarters of the city's 44 miles of water lines are currently undersized. Cities should not have any water lines that are smaller than four inches, said Dilbeck.
"Replacing the water lines is not an emergency, but it is a long-term project that we have to correct," said Dilbeck.
In order to help correct the city's drinking water system problems, the city has entered into a 10-year, $539,030 maintenance agreement with Utility Services, of Georgia, for water tower repairs and maintenance. The city also plans to complete a water meter replacement project, which will cost $350,000.
Other needs include the water pipe replacement project, which would replace all of the undersized lines in the city, and a leak detection project. The pipe replacement project is estimated to cost $6,350,000, and the leak detection project will cost around $45,000.
Dilbeck's presentation also offered photos of cracked clay tile sewer lines, leaking wastewater pipes and overflowing manholes.
"A lot of these sewer pipes are 30 to 40 years old," said Dilbeck. "Cassville has a bad infiltration problem. Right now we are under a five-year mandate to fix this, and we don't know what the cost will be."
As the city works to correct its sanitary sewer overflow and inflow and infiltration problems, it will be required to work with downtown businesses to correct one big violation. The down spouts on many downtown businesses are piped directly into the sewer system.
"EPA prohibits this," said Dilbeck. "We need to take those down spouts out and plug the inflow."
If the city corrects its inflow and infiltration problems, it will expand the life of its wastewater treatment plant, which during periods of heavy rain processes a large amount of stormwater in addition to sewer water.
The city has completed smoke testing, worked to identify its inflow and infiltration problems, purchased a sewer camera to televise the sewer lines and hired an engineer to develop an inflow and infiltration elimination plan.
"We purchased a sewer camera for $65,000," said Dilbeck. "It would have cost the city $175,000 to hire a firm to televise the system for us. Now, we have the ability to analyze and develop a prognosis for sewer issues."
The city still needs to expand its interceptor line, which is currently running at capacity, replace the sewer lines along 11th Street, upgrade its manholes, replace damaged sewer lines and provide sewer services to 140 Cassville residences who currently utilize septic tanks.
"As those septic tanks fail, we will be compelled to bring those residences onto city sewer," said Dilbeck. "This is what happened in Sherwood Forrest, and when they collapsed the septic tanks in the Glenwood Circle area, they found that 90 percent of those had failed."
Dilbeck said that not only is the city operating under a five-year agreement with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency to correct its inflow and infiltration, but it will soon be impacted by additional new water quality standards.
"The good thing is that Cassville has excellent water quality," said Dilbeck. "All we have to do is put a little chlorine in the water. The water coming out of the wastewater treatment plant is better quality than the water in Flat Creek. Water quality standards on the types of minerals and metals that can be in water samples are being tightened though."
In order to correct Cassville's inflow and infiltration problems, the city will likely need to reline or replace many defective sewer lines and manholes. Cassville will also be required to implement the smoke study recommendations and eliminate sanitary sewer overflows.
"This is a tough economy, and it has affected the city just like it has affected your pocketbooks and everything else," said Dilbeck.
The city has seen a decline in sales tax revenues and industrial water use over the last few years. These issues have been compounded by the fact that the city currently has inadequate water and sewer rates, said Dilbeck.
Cassville's water and sewer operation expenses have been higher than revenues since 1996. Last year, expenses were $584,018 more than revenues.
This year, the city has completed $169,203 in major drinking water system maintenance projects, including water tower maintenance, a waterline extension to Business 37, the replacement of a pump motor and casing at well #2, leak detection services, a roof replacement on well #1A and meter replacements.
The city has also completed $315,072 in major wastewater treatment plant maintenance projects. The city replaced a bar screen and filter panels, completed safety upgrades and aeration basin improvements, replaced the digester aerator and installed an automatic V influent gate and a diversion box valve.
In order to fund these projects, the city reduced its reserves from $500,000 to $360,000. The city also signed a $1,118,000 lease purchase agreement, which provided $1,000,000 for expenses.
"The lease purchase agreement allows a city to lease its infrastructure and sell certificates of participation bonds on the bond market to raise funds," said Dilbeck. "This helped us cover our losses and pay for expenses, but this money will be gone at the end of this year."
Last year, the city recorded a net loss of $366,427 for its water and sewer departments. This year, the city expects to see a net loss of $456,048 on its water and sewer accounts.
The rates proposed by the infrastructure task force would provide the city with $1,579,330 in revenue. This would supply the city with $814,068 in additional revenue, which would cover the losses and provide around $300,000 for capital improvements.
A total of 246 Cassville residents use less than 1,000 gallons of water per month. Those households will see an $8.17 per month increase on their water bill. Households that use under 2,000 gallons of water per month will see a $16.20 increase on their bills.
According to Dilbeck 72 percent of Cassville residents use 5,200 gallons of water or less per month. If a household uses 5,200 gallons of water, they will see their utility expenses double under the rate increase proposed.
"The top 10 users will see a 166 percent increase," said Dilbeck. "For those that use larger amounts of water, there will be a pretty big difference."
Dilbeck encouraged all of the citizens who attended the informational meeting to return for the public hearing on Nov. 3.