By DAVID GREEN
Some years Morenci’s sewer use fee goes up, some years it goes down. 2012 will be one of those years that it moves upward.
When the city borrowed money for the combined sewer overflow (CSO) project in 1992, financing regulations called for the establishment of a fund for the operation, maintenance and replacement of the sewer system.
Each year city council establishes an annual rate based on expected needs. This time the rate is jumping by $1 to $3.37 per thousands gallons of water used.
City clerk/administrator Renée Schroeder introduced the topic Monday by noting that two charges will now be absent from water and sewer bills because the CSO project is finally paid off.
Residents will no longer see the fixed quarterly charge of $11.50 nor will they see the quarterly debt retirement fee of 83 cents for every thousand gallons of water used.
For a family using 16,000 gallons a quarter, the reduction comes to $24.78 every quarter. The $1 increase raises the bill by $16 every quarter.
Reaching that $1 increase proved difficult.
Council’s Public Works committee proposed a sewer use rate of $4.08 per thousand gallons, based on a formula that considers savings, revenue and expected spending.
It’s a combination of good news and bad news, said mayor Keith Pennington.
“The bad news is that your sewer rates are going up substantially for next year,” he said. “The good news is that we’ve paid the bond debt off.”
Pennington expects the rate to decrease the following year when infrastructure work tied to the parking lot project is completed. Several old sewer and water lines were replaced in the project, along with new basins and drains to improve storm water removal in the area and a fire hydrant upgrade.
Schroeder said the water/sewer operating and maintenance fund isn’t only for the construction of new lines. It also pays for sludge removal at the lagoons, operation of the water and waste water treatment plants—electrical costs alone are $23,000—along with routine and emergency work completed throughout the year.
“It’s not always saving for a big project,” she said after the meeting. “It’s also saving for emergencies.”
The mayor reiterated auditor Phil Rubley’s advice to the city: Continue funding the infrastructure improvement funds.
“ A lot of cities get in trouble because they really don’t save,” he said. “He commends us for the way we’ve been doing it.”
Pennington stated that the increase was justified for the next year, but councilor Tracy Schell said this isn’t the time for a huge increase.
She was joined by Jason Cook and Greg Braun in opposing the motion, leaving the motion in a tie vote.
Schell offered a motion to increase the rate to $3.20. She said that with this figure, no one’s bill will increase and the amount going into savings will still increase.
This time Art Erbskorn, Leasa Slocum and Pennington voted against the motion.
“We need to make sure the fund stays healthy in case there are any unexpected costs,” Erbskorn said.
Schell said she doesn’t think the city has ever been in the position where fee needed to be doubled.
Cook stated his doubt about the fee coming back down in the future, but Erbskorn it’s been reduced several times in recent years.
Schroeder said there’s about $99,000 in the savings account, and Erbskorn said that wouldn’t cover a major water tower problem, for example.
Schell said the removal of the two charges should not be viewed as a decrease.
“That’s something the citizens have paid off,” she said. “It’s not that we’re giving them a decrease.”
Erbskorn made a new motion for a rate of $3.80, but that also failed. Braun suggested a rate of $3.37 and this time Slocum joined the others to approve the motion by a 4-3 vote.
NEW MEMBER—Three residents applied to fill a vacant council seat and Robert Jennings was chosen. His term will expire in November 2012.
HALLOWEEN—Trick or Treat hours were established from 6 to 8 p.m. Oct. 31.
PARK—City supervisor Lonnie Vanderpool thanked members of the Class of 1976 for their work at Stephenson Park. Equipment was painted and new mulch was spread.
HEATER—Council approved a motion to buy a heater unit for the bay of the EMS building at a cost of $4,800 from Best Heating and Cooling. The existing heater was not sufficient.