August 17, 2016 Edition

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WR council proceeding
with sewer rate increase

Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

During Monday night's meeting, the Walnut Ridge City Council approved the first of three readings to increase the cost of sewer by 90 cents per 1,000 of the first 2,000 gallons. This increase would bring sewer to a flat rate of $4.40 per 1,000 gallons. The council also heard a report on a proposed increase in water rates of $4.10 for the first 1,000 gallons, which will still need to be approved by the water board.

These increases would not only help to keep up with rising costs for the department but also build a reserve for upcoming expenses, including building a new sewer plant and painting the water tower.

City Water Works Manager Jon Kopp attended the meeting and explained that the department is running as economically as it can. Multiple cuts, including taking their 10-man team down to eight has helped keep the department afloat, but Kopp reported a $33,000 loss in 2015.

"We've done all we can do to cut costs," Kopp said. He also confirmed that there is nothing left in reserve.

The cost to treat 1,000 gallons of sewer is $3.75, which means that the department is losing money on the first 2,000 gallons at the current rate of $3.50 per 1,000.

Walnut Ridge citizen Ken Guthrie asked what revenue is expected from some of the bigger developments coming to town. He mentioned the new county jail, Taco Bell and Tractor Supply specifically.

Mayor Charles Snapp said he had looked at figures for the jail, which will be equipped with low flow faucets to decrease water usage. He said that the jail is only expected to put $700 in the department's reserve.

A minimum cost of $100,000 is expected to repaint the water tower. Kopp said this isn't an immediate need, but he recommended it be done soon before rust becomes an issue as that would increase the cost closer to $500,000 to have the tower sandblasted.

A new sewer plant is an even bigger concern as it will run about $5 million according to Kopp. The current plant has about five years of life left in it before a new one is needed, and Kopp said he is hoping to have some money saved to lower the bond required for that build.

If a bond is required to cover the entire cost of the new facility, then that expense would lead to a larger increase in sewer rates than what is being proposed now, Snapp said.

Guthrie said he is concerned about passing the expense to the lower income families, the single parents and the elderly in the community.

Alderman Allen Smith said that the expenses will come at some point no matter what the city decides. "One of the problems cities have is they wait until its too late," Smith said. He explained that it really should be addressed every year because costs go up every year.

Snapp also said in order to draw in new businesses, a good water system is vital. A hotel, which would be a major consumer of water and sewer utilities, may not locate here if the sewer isn't up to standards, explained Snapp.

Also at the meeting, the council amended the park budget, decreasing the "Park, Pool Repairs" line item from $10,000 to $6,000 and the "Park, Supplies" line item from $5,000 to $4,000. The money from both will go to a new line item, "Park, Master Planning Design," to pay Ecological Design Group, Inc., of Wynne, to develop recommendations for the park master plan.

The council also approved a resolution of support for the park committee and for Snapp to apply for grants to improve the recreation facilities at Stewart Park. Any grants awarded would still require council approval for matching funds.

In other business:

the council approved the first reading of an ordinance setting punishment for the misuse of the recycling bin such as dumping household waste in the recycling only bin. The punishment, recommended by Alderman Wendell Jones, of a $100-$500 fine or alternative sentencing determined by the judge was approved.

Walnut Ridge City Attorney Nancy Hall gave an update on the property at 3566 Hwy. 67N, which is currently going through the condemnation process. Hall said the rehab agreement should be finalized Aug. 31. According to the agreement, money designated for the renovation of the property can be used in the razing of the property should the homeowners not meet their deadlines.

the council authorized the payment of $584.44 to Maximum Diesel for sales tax it failed to charge the city.

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