RC council tables decision of water rates

ROGERS CITY – Two members of the City of Rogers City Council opposed raising the city’s water and sewer fees, forcing the tabling of the matter until a future meeting.

Council members Deb Greene and Gary Nowak voiced their disapproval Tuesday of a proposal that would raise fees on city water customers by an average of $2.26 per month. That increase would be much greater for customers with larger service lines, as high as $548.39 per month for customers with the largest service lines. Both Nowak and Greene said they thought the increases were unreasonable, and wanted to take another look at them.

The proposal was presented previously when council members discussed the city’s 2013-14 budget, Mayor Beach Hall said. Originally, council members believed they were voting on public disclosure of the new rates during the meeting Tuesday. Hall and City Manager Mark Slown informed them they were voting on the rates themselves, as well as the public disclosure.

Greene said after the city pursued a USDA loan-funded project to fix its water and sewer system, they were told they wouldn’t need to raise city water or sewer rates for some time.

“So here we are, less than a year later and we’re going to raise the rates,” she said.

Nowak said he believed the city is bringing in money from increases to right-to-serve fees, where water and sewer customers pay to be connected to the system even if the service is shut off.

Slown said the fee increases were suggested because customers are currently paying the same cost, regardless of the size of their service line. Essentially, residential customers are subsidizing apartments and buildings with larger service lines. The increases would correct this, as well as bring in money to keep the city’s infrastructure in good working order.

The city wouldn’t be increasing commodity charges, the cost per unit of water, but flat fees added on in each bill, Slown said. If the proposed increases aren’t approved, the city runs the risk of burning up its surplus in its water and sewer fund. This eventually could lead to a maintenance backlog.

“We’re not helping our future council or the city if we don’t more forward, either a little now or more later,” Hall said.

Council members opted to revisit the issue at their first meeting in July. Tom Sobeck was absent from Tuesday’s meeting, and Greene wanted to discuss the increases when the full council is present.

Nowak also balked at tap-in and connection fees for new water and sewer customers when council members were asked to vote on city fees. Most are unchanged, with a few increasing and the majority decreasing. Tap-in fees are among those that haven’t changed, but Nowak believed them to be too high. He pointed out it would cost a new customer $3,900 to hook up to the water and sewer systems.

Slown explained the fees are meant to be a buy-in of sorts, where new customers are paying to use these systems the city maintains at a great cost. Department heads said lowering them would mean subsidizing new hookups.

Nowak voted with the rest of city council to approve the new city fees, and council members will examine the tap-in fees in the coming months.

After the meeting, Hall said he hoped the city could eventually move forward on the new water and sewer fees.

“I thought we had pretty much a solution that everybody was comfortable with,” he said. “As it turns out, not everybody was comfortable with it. We do need to do something, we do have to cover our costs and we eventually have to pay for an aging infrastructure.”

In other business:

  • council members approved an agreement with L&N Disposal for the same rates as the city previously had with Evergreen Recycling, which was bought by the new provider.
  • council members approved a contract with Rogers City Home Furnishings to put new carpet, and tile in parts, in city hall.
  • council members approved setting city property tax poverty exemption guidelines at the federal minimum, with the asset maximum set at the same rates. The asset maximum would exclude a person’s house and one car.
  • council members approved purchasing a new pickup truck for the Department of Public Works for $16,804.50 from Mike Lynch Ford through a municipal acquisition program.
  • council members did a first reading of two ordinances, one to create two 15-minute parking spaces in front of McLean Pharmacy, and another for tourism-oriented directional signs. For the parking spaces, council members agreed to a suggestion from the audience that the parking restrictions be limited to 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Saturday. City council will hold a public hearing on both at their next meeting.

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at jtravis@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jt_alpenanews. Read his blog, A Snowball’s Chance, at www.thealpenanews.com.