Members of California's Board of Aldermen were divided on — but ultimately approved — an increase to water and sewer utility rates at their monthly meeting Monday.
Aldermen have previously discussed rate increases this year at both their April and May meetings, mostly from a preliminary view; last month, the city's water and wastewater supervisors said they'd bring back a recommendation to the board soon, and the board largely agreed that an increase would be necessary this year. Conversation among aldermen about the change at this week's meeting was more contentious, as the approved sewer rate nearly doubles the current base rate from $10.51 to $20, and the water rate sees a nearly $5 increase as well, from $11.35 to $16 for the base rate. Combined, the change results in a base increase of $14.14 per bill, based on an estimated consumption of 1,000 gallons per month. The new rates go into effect Aug. 1.
City supervisors and California mayor Rich Green, in his own recommendation penned and disseminated to the board, assert the more drastic jump is because the city's rates have remained the same for such a lengthy period. There has been no increase in sewer rates since 2008, and no increase in water rates since around 2006 or 2007, leaving California with some of the lowest rates in the state. California's combined current rates amount to 65 percent of the combined average of rates in nearby Lake Ozark, Tipton, Versailles, Eldon and Osage Beach.
Green informed the board that rates were supposed to be revisited each year and rise incrementally over time — at least based on what California's aldermen have approved in the past — and simply haven't been.
During discussion, disagreement largely stemmed from how a rate hike would affect businesses versus citizens, with alderwoman Resa Dudley the most vocal opponent. Dudley said her concerns lied in the affect the change would have on the "average citizen."
Green, meanwhile, said he wanted to make sure that rates were increased to where they needed to be to better reflect average rates of other municipalities nearby while also avoiding adding drastic costs for California's businesses. The new rates include a third threshold of usage rate by gallon, which sees rates decrease from $1.43 per 1,000 gallons in the window of 1,000 to 5,000 gallons to $0.43 per 1,000 gallons after eclipsing 5,000 gallons. That decision, Green wrote in his recommendation, would not "unduly impact (California's) industrial users."
Dudley was the lone dissenting vote as the new rates were approved 4-1.
Green's letter to aldermen states that the increased revenue from the rate hike will total around $437,000 per year in total, $168,000 for the water department and $269,000 for the sewer department.
"This should allow us to access some of the bond money (still available), or at least begin necessary infrastructure repairs, expansions and upgrades," Green wrote in the letter.
These rates weren't the only ones discussed Monday; Geoff Shackleford with Boonslick Recycling Center was also on hand to discuss an incremental rate increase. The board approved the request, which raises the city's payment for recycling services from $72 to $360 per month and takes effect July 1.
Another request, this time related to the use of the showers at the city pool, was also approved. Kim Drummond, representing California United Methodist Church, informed the board the church will be hosting a cross-country bicycling group on June 22 as it passes through the community.
In other new business, the board voted to remove portions of the planned street overlay work to remain under budget, as both of a pair of bidders for the project ultimately came in far higher than what is budgeted. The lowest bid submitted was north of $250,000, with only $200,000 reflected in the city's original budget.
The group also again discussed establishing a new vacant building ordinance; city attorney Ann Perry informed the board she's been working on a registry ordinance, looking at similar codified laws from municipalities throughout the state. The board asked her to continue making adjustments in advance of next month's meeting.
One ordinance that was approved at Monday's meeting also stemmed from conversation during the past months, regarding "small or tiny homes." The board approved an ordinance that now establishes a building code for the construction and placement of such properties within the city limits. Existing homes compliant with the building code are grandfathered in, Perry said, but any new additions to already-existing properties must also be compliant.
In other business, Perry gave a brief update on the city's ongoing lawsuit, filed by former California police officers Jared Allen, Nick Stobbart and Christopher Tew. Most recently, Tew's request for punitive damages in the suit was dismissed at the end of May, following a motion from the city.
In department reports, water and sewer supervisor Kyle Wirts said he wants to get started on a number of budgeted projects — the department will soon seek bids for a lift station replacement, and will pursue chlorine analyzer purchases and a water tower inspection and cleaning. The board also agreed to look into getting on the wait list for a free smoke study, one idea that has previously been discussed this year.
At the California Police Department, a new employee has been hired to replace long-time clerk Kathy Roll, who retired May 28. The CPD is also in the process of evaluating three new officer candidates. If all are hired, the department will have just one remaining officer vacancy to fill.
In the park department, the board approved a new mower purchase from Omnia Partners for $13,867.50.
In recreation, the new heater for the pool had shipped as of Monday's meeting and is expected to arrive this week. The board also discussed a request from recreation supervisor Leslie Scheidt to give the pool's head life guards a raise, but aldermen were uncertain whether one had already been approved. The request was tabled until July's meeting.
The board of aldermen will next meet later this month on June 22 at 6 p.m., as the city will need to discuss its liability insurance since it must be renewed prior to the regular July meeting. Next month's regular meeting is set for Tuesday, July 6 at 7 p.m. due to the Fourth of July holiday.