Mount Ida City Council approves small increase in water rates

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    MOUNT IDA – City Aldermen voted to approve a small increase to rates on water related services and trash services after a lengthy debate over appropriate percentages needed to cover the increase in rates passed down from the regional water authority.
    After the approval of the minutes with an amendment and the financial report, Mayor Jo Childress brought up the need to discuss water usage rate increases. She reminded the council members that she had asked them to work on some figures and then went around the table asking for suggestions. Alderwoman Debbie Baldwin presented a proposal that would increase the monthly minimum usage rate for those inside city limits by nine cents and outside the city by 10 cents. She also proposed a 10 cent increase across the board on the rate per 1,000 gallons used over the minimum charge.
    She stated that there are currently 539 meters in the city limits and 695 meters outside the city limits. She provided figures based on October usage which revealed that the proposed increase would provide the city with approximately $6,500 more per month to cover the regional water increase which figures out to about $3,500 more per month.
    She also proposed a 10 cent increase for the sewer charge with a 15 cent increase for water usage per month.  The proposal also called for a five percent increase for trash pickup, which amounts to 44 cents  per month.
    Baldwin reminded everyone that a sewer rate increase would require a public meeting.
    The aldermen discussed the last water rate increase which was a five percent increase. Baldwin reminded everyone that they needed to bring in more that what they pay regional water. The city water department has operated in a deficit and needs to work toward balancing the budget.
    Margaret Scurlock and Melvin Simpson stated that they felt if the regional authority was raising the city’s rate by 15 percent then the city would need to raise their rates to their consumers by the same.
    Mike Brown responded by saying that he would not vote for a one time 15 percent increase.
    Simpson figured that Baldwin’s proposal would call for less than a one percent increase in water rates and he didn’t understand how that would cover what the city would be paying for water.
    Brown stated that you were comparing thousands to millions and you couldn’t use the same percentages. Regional water rates to the city increased 15 percent for their minimum purchase of seven million gallons per month. The city’s minimum charge to residents is based on thousands.
    Brown then suggested that the city look at a five percent increase.
    Baldwin once again stated that the city’s payment to regional water would increase approximately $3,500. Her proposed increase would cover that and provide the city with extra money to help cover the water department’s deficit.
    Scurlock asked what the city would do if Baldwin’s proposed increase didn’t cover regional water’s increase to the city.
    Mayor Childress stated that they could always revisit the issue in six months and propose another increase if needed.
    Alderman Rick Farmer stated that he felt they needed to increase the water rates as little as possible. Alderman Joe Partain said that 15 percent would be more than the city needed.
    Mayor Childress, who is on the board of the regional water authority along with Baldwin, reminded everyone that water sold to Mount Ida and Oden is the only source of income for the regional water authority.
    Farmer asked if a one percent increase would be enough. Baldwin asked everyone to forget percentages and look at the numbers. She felt her proposal was sufficient to cover the city’s increase in their bill.
    Alderman Mike Brown made a motion to accept Alderwoman Debbie Baldwin’s proposed water rate increase. Alderman Rick Farmer seconded the motion.
    The motion passed with Debbie Baldwin, Joe Partain, Rick Farmer and Mike Brown voted yes, Margaret Scurlock voting no, and Melvin Simpson abstaining.
    The rate increase will raise the minimum water bill by about 64 cents for those with sewer and trash pick up and only 10 cents for those who only purchase water.
    Mayor Childress addressed the need for regional water’s rate increase to the city.
    “If regional doesn’t stay in business Mount Ida is out of water.” She said.
    She added that if regional doesn’t raise rates to cover needed improvements and repairs they will shut down, or worse the state will bring in an independent contractor to run the facility. She stated that it wasn’t easy to make decisions at regional that affected the city, but it had to be done.
    “Is it a conflict of interest? You bet ya, but it is in the by laws so I have to be on the board.” She added.
    The mayor of Oden and Mount Ida are required to be on the board of the regional water authority according to the authority’s bylaws.
    Council members set the date for the public meeting regarding the proposed sewer rate increase for December 7 at 5:30 p.m.