City looks to increase water/sewer rates

City Council
By: 
Kim Brooks
Express Editor

     Increasing water/sewer rates and establishing compost site user fee were hot topics during the Sept. 8 Monticello City Council meeting.

     The final recommendation was to have City Administrator Doug Herman present numbers to the council at their next meeting reflecting a base increase of 50 cents and rate increases of both 3 and 5 percent for water, sewer increases at both 150 and 160 percent, and a compost site fee of $2 a month (added to residents’ utility bills).

     The last time the city increased water fees were in July 2015. Rates include:

     • $6.17 for the first 1,000 gallons used per month

     • $4 per 1,000 gallons for the second to ninth 1,000 gallons used

     • $4.13 per 1,000 gallons for the 10th through infinity gallons used

     • A flat monthly water/sewer equipment replacement fee of 50 cents

     The city bills out approximately 1,700 water accounts per month.

     Current sewer rates are set at 150 percent of the water rate.

     The proposed fee increases are intended to assist in the building of a fund to help offset the cost of a new city sewer treatment plant, estimated at $10 million. There are also increased costs to operate the plant.

     Herman said the city would be looking at the sewer plant project within the next three to five years. He said if the council were to establish a large utility increase rather than phase it in, residents could see a significant increase.

     “We need to see what it would cost on an annual basis to pay off the debt and look at rates to meet the debt payment,” explained Herman.

     He said if the council looks at rate increases to “take a significant bite out of $10,000 million,” it would be difficult.

     “It’s time to consider a cost of living increase,” continued Herman.

     “If we don’t change the rates we’ll be deeper in the hole when the (sewer) project starts,” commented Council member Dave Goedken.

     Council member Brenda Hanken seemed to accuse the council of setting money aside for projects, much like this, and using it for something else.

     “It needs to stay where it’s needed,” she said.

     Hanken referred to a pot of money ($12,000) that was sitting unused for years in the Aquatic Center fund. The funds were moved into the Fountain Park project fund.

     City Clerk Sally Hinrichsen explained that money set aside from the sewer project would stay with that fund, and could not be used for anything else.

     Hanken was also vehemently against any rate increases, saying she’s representing those on fixed incomes.

     “Three percent is just the cost of living,” said Council member Candy Langerman “It’s to just cover the cost of operating the sewer plant.”

     Mayor Brian Wolken explained that tax rates and the cost of living ultimately go up, and so do the costs to operate a city.

     “Everything costs more; everyone wants to make more. We have to take it all into consideration,” added Council member Tom Yeoman.

     Goedken said while he’s tried to keep the city’s tax rate at a minimum, in this case he’s in favor of an increase because the city is “slipping behind” when it comes to having to pay for a new sewer plant.

     “We’re behind and getting ourselves in a hole,” he added. “We need to look at a rate increase to at least cover the cot of expenses and operations.”

     “Nobody wants to raise rates,” Wolken said. “It’s a tough decision for elected officials to make.”

     In terms of the compost site, it costs the city about $40,000 a year to operate the new service, which also includes yard waste pick-up. Goedken said a lot of elderly people in the community rely on Public Works offering yard waste pick-up. Yeoman said he’s received a few calls from older residents in his ward not wanting to see the service go away.

     The council felt that an additional $2 a month added to people’s utility bill would help offset the cost associated with the compost site.

     “We need a revenue source to pay for the bill,” Goedken said of the compost site.

     Regarding an increase or establishment of any user fee, it takes three readings before the ordinance is passed and takes effect. Herman said he would present draft ordinances to the council at their next meeting.

In other city business:

   The council approved the sale of a 2000 Ford Ranger pickup by sealed bid. The estimated value is less than $500.

     The vehicle was primarily used by Parks and Rec, after use by the Monticello Police Department.

     • The council approved payment to Midwest Concrete Inc. in the amount of $80,750.11 for the Willow Trail extension project along Highway 38/E. Oak Street.

     • After receiving a cost estimate of $40,000 for the Highway 38 sewer project for three property owners, the council directed Herman to go back to the drawing table.

     Initially the council agreed to no more than $35,000. The project was prompted by Norm Zimmerman, who not intends to hook into a new sewer main, but two others as well. Zimmerman offered to contribute $12,000 toward the project if the city takes it on. The other two owners verbally agreed to $5,000 each.

     Now the council would like to see how much it would cost Zimmerman to pursue a private project for a 6-inch sewer line, negotiating the costs with the neighboring properties.

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