On Monday night, Mayor Tracy Holle cast the tie-breaking vote to approve the first reading of an ordinance that will dramatically increase the city's water and sewer rates.
Holle led the discussion on the water and sewer rate increase. She began by asking each council member if they were in support of an increase. After each alderman confirmed that an increase was needed, she asked if they were in support of the plan that was recommended by the infrastructure task force and adopted by the council on Sept. 19.
"Yes," said Alderman Darrell Ledenham. "I know it is not popular, but I guess this is not a popularity contest. I have listened to my constituents and the committee that made the recommendation. This is the only solution I see. If we do anything less, I think we will be back here doing this again next year."
Alderman Bill Hill said that he could not support the plan that was adopted in September. He also stated that he is in favor of reviewing the water and sewer on an annual basis.
"I see a need for an increase, but I don't see the need to burden our citizens," said Hill. "These rates are more than most of our constituents want, and I cannot support that proposal."
Alderman Terry Heinz also indicated that he could not support the current rate increase plan. He stated that he did support the Missouri Rural Water Association's (MRWA) scenario one recommendation.
Scenario one would have increased the basic water rate from $10.27 to $10.60 and decrease the sewer rate from $8.09 to $6.80. Under scenario one, the water usage rate would increase from $1.80 to $3.75 per 1,000 gallons and the sewer usage rate would increase from $2.92 to $6.29 per 1,000 gallons.
"I support scenario one rates implemented over 24 months," said Heinz. "Under scenario one, the estimated annual revenue will be $1,416,618.50, and this doesn't include any bump from increased sales after new water meters are installed."
Heinz said that the revenue would cover the city's estimated annual expenses, which are $1,266,235. This would also provide the city with $543,132 more than was collected in 2010, said Heinz.
"We should, during the 24-month implementation period, replace all of the water meters, verify annual accuracy of wellhead meters, review Olsson Engineering's inflow and infiltration reduction program, continue to televise the sewer lines to find our real needs and complete an asset inventory," said Heinz. "When this is done, (we should) revisit the water and sewer rates using an evaluation by an outside contractor.
"As I stated, I recommend this rate be implemented over a 24-month period starting Jan. 1, 2012, and every four months thereafter," said Heinz. "Scenario one rates are in themselves a significant increase. A 24-month implementation will allow all rate holders an opportunity to work them into their budgets.
"I find the infrastructure task force recommended rates to be excessive and not warranted at this time and maybe never," said Heinz. "I believe they may be regressive."
Alderman Jeff Parsons joined Ledenham in expressing support for the proposed water and sewer rate increase as adopted in September.
"I'm not going to be as wordy as Terry, but I am in favor of the infrastructure task force's recommendation," said Parsons.
Holle took time to question the responses given by Hill and Heinz.
"I want to ask you, Bill, what will we do when we have major maintenance needs?" asked Holle.
"We will need to quit using as much out of our general revenue," said Hill.
"Is this going to be any easier next year?" asked Holle. "Will we just be kicking the can further down the road?"
"We could approve this now and two more aldermen get elected next year who lower it again," said Heinz. "Hypothetical questions don't mean squat."
Heinz's response drew a loud round of laughter and applause from the large number of residents attending the meeting. Holle chastised the audience and warned them against further outbursts.
Earlier in the meeting, Cassville resident Charlie Jackson spoke to the council regarding a past lawsuit that citizens won against the city regarding utility rates.
Holle asked Parsons to comment on the lawsuit issue, but Parsons indicated that the information he received was during a private conversation that he was not interested in sharing at the meeting.
"There is no way the council can anticipate what a group is going to do," said Eugene Dilbeck, city administrator. "Don't think you should feel intimidated. If you do the right thing that will prevail. The information you have received is accurate and can withstand test."
Dilbeck also pointed out that the council could not approve a 24-month phase-in plan because the current council cannot obligate a future council. The phase-in plan could only be suggested, said Dilbeck.
Parsons made the motion on the proposed water and sewer rates, and Ledenham seconded the motion. Both aldermen voted in favor of implementing the new rates. Hill and Heinz opposed the rate increase. Holle broke the tie with a "yes" vote."
According to the rate increase plan, the base rate for residential water will increase to $11.50 and the per 1,000-gallon usage charge will increase to $5.25. The base rate for sewer service will decrease to $7, and the usage charge will increase to $7.50.
The aldermen will conduct the second reading of the ordinance to establish the new water and sewer rates at their meeting on Nov. 21.
In other business, the Cassville City Council:
* Heard a presentation on Cassville YMCA programs and Aquatic Center operations.
* Was addressed by Bob Bishop, who expressed support for the water and sewer rate increase.
* Discussed the numbers that were spray painted on the downtown streets to mark booth space for the Chili and Salsa Cook-Off.
* Heard that a resident has complained about the sidewalks located in downtown Cassville, which are not Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant.
* Received an update on the DREAM Initiative, which will conduct meetings in Cassville with elected officials, the city's building inspector and staff and downtown property owners on Nov. 15.
* Approved a $4,200 purchase order from HD Supply Water Works for a BOD incubator and a $5,435.15 purchase order from Hutchens Construction for utility repair patching.
* Heard that the Downtown Cassville Partnership has changed its name to the Cassville Main Street Association.
* Scheduled budget workshop meetings to be held on Nov. 28 and Nov. 29.
* Accepted a $50 bid from Alvin Pryor for the house located at 9773 Farm Road 2160, adjacent to the Cassville Municipal Airport.
* Heard that grant funding available through the DREAM Initiative will require matching investments from area business owners.