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Council Urged To Raise Sewer Rates Significantly — Right Now

By Sue Curry Jones

Tuesday evening members of city council and administrative officials were confronted with a situation that brings to mind a phrase we’ve all heard.  It’s an expression used  when dealing with something unfavorable or difficult to embrace –– the often-heard phrase “bite the bullet now or you’ll pay for it later” was the crux of the message stressed by Carl Brown, owner of Carl Brown Consulting, LLC, of Jefferson City, as he presented a financial overview of Ava’s wastewater sewer system and rate structure.

In the presentation, Brown said residents have been underpaying on sewer rates for years and current rates are far from where they should be to sustain the system and provide much needed capital improvements. He advised council to implement a significant change in sewer rates for residential customers –– an increase of nearly 60 percent.

Brown said if Ava didn’t act now and adopt a rate change, future deficits would cost residents and the city more over the long haul.

By 2016, Brown estimated capital improvement costs for Ava’s wastewater facility to require at least $2.6 million in upgrade repairs.  He said grants are available for this type of capital improvement project, and since Ava is a rural area without an economy of scale, the city would be a perfect candidate for a grant award.

According to Brown, under the present structure, the city’s pur­chasing power will continue to diminish and slide into the negative, which means in future years, city officials will find it even harder to recoup the loss and set a reasonable rate.

Whereas, if council opts to adopt the full rate increase now, assets will begin to increase rather than fall into the negative.

In conjunction with the sewer analysis, Brown had also reviewed the city’s water rate and found it to be in good shape.  He did, however, recommend a 2 ½ percent increase.

In summary, Brown said the smart way to accomplish this project is to invest early on so it eliminates “catching up” later.  He noted this approach is important and has to do with the way money compounds.  He said “a big increase now with smaller ones later, works better.”

At present, the city’s current sewer rate is $12.89 month, with a $3.15 per 1000 unit charge after the first 1000 gallons.

According to Brown’s figures, the proposed 59-60 percent increase would increase charges by $22.28 per month with a $4.90 per 1000 unit charge; or, depending on the plan selected by council, rates could increase by $24.22 per month with $4.09 per 1000 unit charge.

No vote was taken on the topic.

Council members voted to accept the municipal court docket as presented and approve payment of bills. They also amended the vote count adopted during the previous meeting, which was revised to state:  east ward alderman, Ric Engelhardt, 48, and Bonnie Evans, 29; and west ward alderman, David Norman, 39.

A bill to amend city code and expand requirements for individuals interested in appearing before city council with public comments was tabled upon request by Councilman David Norman.

In the proposed change, Norman questioned a provision that stated individuals would be limited to one appearance per month. Norman voiced reservations about setting a format that would restrict public involvement and comments.   The amendment will be revised.

During closed session, council hired Joe Johnson as a full-time city employee to trim and cut brush, and serve as a floater doing odd jobs as needed. Johnson’s job duties are directed by the mayor.

Councilmen present were Ric Engelhardt, Burrely Loftin, Bill Long and David Norman.

The next council meeting will be held on Tuesday, May 8, at City Hall.  Sessions start at 5 p.m.