City OKs water rate hike

By Corene Brisendine

City commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a first reading of an ordinance raising water and sewer water rates by 3 percent next year.

Commissioner Jim Sherow summed up the motivations to reduce the rate increase to 3 percent from the initial 4 percent proposal when he said it was “not a profit motive,” and he was glad to keep the rate increases as “close to cost” as possible.

Commissioner Wynn Butler suggested the commission change the ordinance to the initially proposed 4 percent raise in an effort to flatten the water rates faster, but city manager Ron Fehr gave two reasons why that would not be a good idea.

Fehr said in the past the city had been criticized for keeping cash balances that were too large on hand, and he said the extra 1 percent in revenue was not necessary.

“We certainly didn’t want that to occur and not have more than we need on a year-to-year basis,” Fehr said. “The advantage of a 4 percent increase would certainly decrease the year-four and five increases, if that is something you wanted to do, but we don’t need the 4 percent to make things work for 2013.”

He also said that the commission had agreed to spread out the adjustments over a five-year period; therefore, the 1 percent would not make a difference in speeding up the process of flattening the rate. Fehr said that with the residential rates remaining unchanged either way, the extra 1 percent would translate into higher rate hikes for the larger volume users, which at the 3 percent rate increase translates to a 6 percent increase for the next-to-highest users and a 9 percent increase for the highest users.

“Part of the reason we kept this at a five-year increase was to avoid significant ‘sticker shock,’ especially upon the larger water users,” Sherow said. “So, we want to make this a business-friendly community as well, but we certainly don’t want the residential users subsidizing the larger water users.”

As for the waste water, the rate increases have been significantly higher in the past three years with 25, 20 and 15 percent increases annually. This year, the rate increase was also suggested to be a 3 percent increase. Robert Pugh, assistant director of Public Works for Utilities, said half of the waste water rate increases were due to state mandates to expand the waste water facility and the moving of waste water lines associated with the K-18 expansion project. He said the city took out a $23 million loan in order to cover the costs, and as a result the rate increases would be used to pay that loan over the next 20 years — the life of the loan. Pugh said the K-18 expansion project cost the city another $5 million to move the wastewater lines, but the city would be able to re-purpose the removed line, saving the waste water users some money.

Fehr said that at the end of the 20-year loan he did not foresee the rates decreasing, but hoped they would remain constant.

During the public comment, Stan Herman, 2120 Bluehills Road, presented a petition signed by 49 residents who also live on Bluehills Road to move that road up to the top of the street repairs list.

Fehr said he was aware of the condition of Bluehills Road, and while some parts of it were in need of immediate attention, he didn’t think all of the repairs were bad enough to move the entire length of the street to the top of the list. As a result, he said he would see what he could do to expedite the more urgent repairs. Pepperd also thanked Herman for taking the time to contact the other residents on Bluehills Road and bringing the petition to the attention of the commission.

During commissioner’s comments, Sherow said the citizens in “the Little Apple” should do something to help those in “the Big Apple” though some sort of charitable donation. Fehr said he would have someone put a link to the New York City website where people wanting to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy can provide aid.

Commissioners all wore K-State football jerseys during the meeting in tribute to K-State’s recent victory over West Virginia.

The tribute was a result of the bet Morgantown Mayor Jim Manilla placed with Pepperd stating that the mayor of the losing team’s home city would wear the winning team’s colors during their next commission meeting. Pepperd held up the WVU T-shirt he would have had to wear Tuesday night had K-State lost.

“I would like to thank the entire K-State football team, Coach Snyder and all his coaches for keeping me from wearing this,” Pepperd said. “I think it’s a good thing the mayor of Morgantown started, but I don’t think he realized the Big 12 was so tough and I think he is wearing TCU this week.”

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