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City proposes higher sewer, refuse rates

Staff writer

Of three budget proposals Marion City Council heard Monday, the one that got it the most money was the one the council will move forward with.

Administrator Roger Holter’s proposal includes a $57,000 increase in sewer and refuse fees.

The increases will total about $48 per household, the equivalent to a property tax rate increase of 5.64 mills, or 8 percent.

The tax rate is proposed to hold steady at 70.33 mills, though that is subject to valuation in November. County officials responsible for valuation expect that to decrease, which could result in an increase in the mill levy.

Holter had encouraged department heads to trim initial budget proposals $27,000 to maintain the property tax rate.

A main priority was to build cash reserves. Holter said it was “standard” to have three to four months of cash reserves in utility accounts. That equates to between $756,610 and $907,933. Right now the city only has five weeks’ worth in reserve, he said.

Heitschmidt questioned whether that was necessary, saying it made more sense from a private utility provider that doesn’t have additional civic obligations.

Fairer-than-expected weather also has cut expected revenue from the city’s profit-making electric utility.

East Park approved

Before the budget is officially adopted next month, the city will need to find money to put up its 10-percent match of a $221,940 community development block grant, officially approved Monday, to create racquetball courts and repair existing facilities in East Park.

It’s already committed to saving reserves for a $140,000 trash truck scheduled for purchase in 2017, and to fund one of two new intended positions in its parks and recreation department, which officially was created Monday by a resolution.

It also is looking at a minimum of $300,000 in long-term loans to complete a water line improvement project scheduled for 2017.

City at bonding limit

Darin Neufeld of Evans, Bierly, Hutchinson Engineering took council through its options, which he said were limited because the city has exceeded its statutory limit on bonded indebtedness.

Mayor Todd Heitschmidt and councilman Chad Adkins were most eager to begin the project on schedule — Heitschmidt again cited what he viewed as past administrations’ failures to fix infrastructure issues such as water quality and streets. Adkins echoed his sentiments.

“I think we have a significant problem with water delivery,” Adkins said. “I think it’s been neglected for a long time. Now as I say that, I also understand the budget side of it as well.”

Adkins said that each year the city puts off the project, it pays to fix smaller problems on the lines.

Neufeld suggested that raising water rates, which already are above state averages, would help the city in its grant application. He also said this year might be an ideal time to apply for a USDA grant, because there hasn’t been a high number of applicants and funds are available.

Holter said he wasn’t trying to convince council members of anything, just informing them before they reached a decision. At their last meeting, Holter advised council to wait until 2017 to apply for grants to fund the water project.

Heitschmidt said the city doesn’t have enough money to provide utility services it offers.

“If we don’t want to increase anything, or hold the line,” Heitschmidt said, “how in the world can we sit here and tell the residents their streets are going to be OK, the water quality’s going to be OK, and the sewer’s going to work when it needs to?”

City electric rates are high enough to more than pay costs and subsidize other city operations. However, Holter said sewer and water rates cover only operation costs, not depreciation of equipment.

Last modified July 23, 2015

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