Large water rate hike expected over three years
By Andy Hallman
The Washington City Council will hold special sessions to discuss its budget in the next two months, and it got a head start on those discussions Wednesday. The council talked about some of the large projects in the city’s future and how those will affect next year’s budget.
The city has been preoccupied with its wastewater system for a few years, having spent more than $15 million on a new wastewater plant and a gravity sewer. City Administrator Brent Hinson told the councilors it is now time to turn their attention to the city’s water infrastructure.
Of particularly pressing need is a new well. The city relies on two wells and has a third as a backup. However, the city has not drilled a well since 1967, which Hinson said is quite a long time. Hinson said the city could be forced to drill several new wells in a short span of time if it doesn’t start drilling soon.
“Very little spending has occurred in the water fund in the past 20 years, and now those bills have come due,” he said.
To pay for new wells, plus a new underground storage container, the city will have to raise water rates yet again. Hinson estimated that the city could raise the necessary funds by increasing water bills 3.5 percent this July, then 10 percent next year and 10 percent again the year after that.
Councilor Bob Shellmyer asked Hinson if it was really necessary to raise water bills that much, and Hinson said he didn’t see any way around it.
Councilor Mark Kendall said that if the city needs to raise a large sum of money quickly, he’d rather start right away. Rather than bump the increase from 3.5 to 10 percent, he’d like to see the bills increase by a steady percentage over the next three years, perhaps by 7 or 8 percent all three years.
Kendall also addressed the council from the podium about the state of city finances. He said he tried to factor out the seasonal expenses in the budget to see how well the departments were staying within their budget for the first half of the fiscal year. He said he was amazed at how accurate the numbers are that the council receives from Hinson and City Accountant Joe Myers.
Hinson said he wants to represent the city’s finances in charts and graphs, to allow the councilors to comprehend the material more easily.
The council also talked about a project to move one of the runways at the airport 750 feet to the northwest. Washington Airport Commission chairman Mike Roe said at a council meeting in October that the runway is 50 years old and deteriorating. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has offered to pay for 90 percent of the cost of replacing the runway on the condition Washington moves it 750 feet to the northwest so it is not so close to Airport Road.
Shellmyer said he’s against moving the runway in that direction because that puts it 750 feet closer to densely populated buildings in the southeast part of town such as the All-American Care Center, the Washington County Hospital and Clinics, Halcyon House and the high school.
If the runway were moved 750 feet to the northwest, it would be about 2,800 feet from the All-American Care Center. Shellmyer said the most dangerous part of a flight is the first 1,000 feet in the air, when the pilots would be near those buildings.
Shellmyer said he is not yet convinced the runway needs to be replaced altogether. Furthermore, if the runway is too close to the Airport Road to the east, then it could just be shortened from a 3,400-foot runway to a 2,650-foot runway. Hinson said that such a short runway would not meet FAA standards.
The council considered moving its meeting day to another day of the week. Kendall said he did not like the council to meet on church night since this prevented some people from attending the meeting.
The rest of the council favored keeping the meetings on Wednesday. Councilor Fred Stark said he has many duties to perform with the Lions Club and that he told the club he is free every day but Wednesday. He said he would likely miss a few meetings if the day were changed.
The council passed the third and final reading of an ordinance to allow sidewalk cafés in the downtown. The ordinance allows business owners to set up tables and chairs outside their business, provided they obtain a license from the city.
The council confirmed three additional mayoral appointments to the Housing Task Force. The three persons were Suzanne Ackermann, Jim Taylor and Ramiro Hernández.
The council also contracted with TK Enterprises to paint a couple of stoplights in town, namely those at the intersection of West Main Street and North Second Avenue and the intersection of West Madison Street and South Avenue B. Hinson said that even though West Madison is a state road at that section, the state will not help pay to repaint the stoplight because it does not believe a stoplight is necessary at that intersection.