Utility rate increase placed on hold

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

On Monday night, the Cassville City Council decided to place the second reading of an ordinance, which would increase the city's water and sewer rates, on hold until officials have the opportunity to review information that has been developed by a group of Cassville citizens.

After the aldermen approved the consent agenda, Mayor Tracy Holle gave several individuals in attendance an opportunity to address the council.

"My purpose tonight is to request that you stop the water and sewer rate increase as proposed and return to the step one increase that was proposed to the infrastructure committee I served on," said John Starchman. "That increase was presented to the committee as a minimal but adequate increase.

"We all accept that an increase is needed, but the citizens that live in the city are not all able to absorb the current proposed increase," said Starchman. "This issue has caused more division within the community than anything I can recall since moving to Cassville."

Starchman said he believes the discontent caused by the proposed rate increase will become harmful to the Cassville community.

"We don't need citizens demanding audits and other such activities because of this issue," said Starchman. "We don't need the kind of negative electioneering that will develop over an issue that is the cause of such controversy.

"We do need a rate increase," said Starchman. "You have the power and the obligation to deal with both problems. I'm asking you to back up a step and proceed slowly."

Red Phillips echoed Starchman's plea to reconsider the proposed rate increase.

"What I'm looking at is what could happen if you do this," said Phillips. "I know that you didn't cause this, you are just trying to straighten it out. I'm just asking you to give us a decent fighting chance. There are people in this community who can't pay a $150 water bill.

"I live in Cassville, and I love it," said Phillips. "I would fight for it, but this has been done too quickly. I cannot fight for this, and if you do this, you will not be able to get another bond issue to go through for 10 years."

Bob Bishop also addressed the council regarding the water and sewer rate increase.

"I would like to disagree with a lot of people," said Bishop. "I believe the rate that you are asking for will cover what we need."

Bishop touched on several water and wastewater issues that the city is currently facing, including 30 percent water loss due to breaks and leaks.

"If you do not do this, you are putting the city in great risk," said Bishop. "I hope that you are honest with yourselves and see that you are doing right for the future of Cassville rather than the individual."

When Holle asked the council for discussion on the issue, Alderman Darrell Ledenham stated that he was under the impression that a group of citizens would be presenting the council with some figures related to the rate increase discussion.

When asked to elaborate on the information that has been developed by the group of citizens, Mike Schlichtman said information could be presented to the council if requested.

"I believe this is an important issue that should be looked at by an outside engineer," said Schlichtman. "You can raise the rates to throw money at your problem, but you don't want to stifle the economy of the city.

"I believe you should take time to get knowledgeable people together to look at the numbers," said Schlichtman. "I promise you that you can find a solution besides gathering a wheelbarrow full of money from the citizens."

Schlichtman asked the council to take a step back from the proposed rate increase and take time to gather more information on alternatives.

"You have an excellent opportunity to do a very good thing," said Schlichtman. "Step back and give this thing a second look."

Stu Gatley addressed the council on behalf of FASCO. Gatley said the local industry, which once employed around 1,200 individuals, now only employs around 300 people due to the economy and cheaper labor costs in foreign markets.

"I hear your problem," said Gatley. "I saw the PowerPoint, and I know you are in a sad state, but you can't address this all at once. I don't think this is the right answer.

"You need more planning to target the amount of money you need," said Gatley. "Then, you need to step it along. To give everybody and all the businesses a chance to absorb it."

Gatley pointed out that if Designs By Debbie was to double its rates overnight few Cassville residents would continue to shop there. He also remarked that if the rates are increased as proposed many renters will likely move out of the city.

"FASCO could absorb an increase over time," said Gatley. "But if you do this all at once, think of FASCO as hanging by its fingernails on a cliff wall."

Holle reminded the aldermen and those in attendance at the meeting that the council cannot obligate a future council to a rate increase phase-in plan.

"If you implement a workable plan, I have faith that the voters will put people into office who will take that manageable plan and see it through," said Schlichtman. "I wouldn't let that stop you from implementing the plan that you see is best."

Holle asked Schlichtman, Alderman Terry Heinz and other citizens who are working on the alternative plan to meet with city staff members to share information. Alderman Bill Hill will also meet with the group on behalf of the council.

In other business, the Cassville City Council:

* Approved a credit card application that will allow staff members to take credit card payments on utility accounts by phone and in the city hall.

* Heard administrative reports.

* Approved a credit card application for traffic fines and court payments. Fees and fines can be paid through www.trafficpayment.com.

* Directed Eugene Dilbeck, city administrator, to renegotiate a portion of the Cassville YMCA contract.

* Heard that the city's sales tax has increased by 1.1 percent for the year.

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