City approves water rate increases

By Nick Kovatch on November 13 at 7:15am

Jacksonville water customers will see higher bills starting January 1st.

City Council approved the 2014 Utilities Budget, which included a $1.6 million increase in Capital Improvement Projects. Alderwoman Jenny Geirnaeirt, head of the city’s utility committee, explains why rates are increasing.

“Number one is the future building of a new water plant which is a huge project and we talked about this a year ago in September,” says Geirnaeirt. “We acknowledged then that rates would go up. The second thing is we have several other capital improvement projects that we have to do and most of them are mandated by the EPA. Some of them we have to do in order to keep the water and sewer plant working.”

In addition to the new, $30 million water plant, Geirnaeirt points to projects like EPA-mandated storm sewer separation projects, mandated water and sewer line upgrades, and replacing 100-year-old water and sewer lines at the proposed North Main extension project.

She also notes the loss of large water customers like ACH Foods and the Jacksonville Developmental Center play a role in the water rate hikes.

Here’s how the increases play out:

Minimum-use water customers will see an increase of $7.38 per month.

5,000 gallon users will see an increase of $14.85 a month.

10,000 gallon users will get a $27.30 increase.

20,000 gallon users will see a $52.20 increase per month

130,000 gallon users will see an increase of $326.10 a month.

“It’s not popular,” says Jacksonville Mayor Andy Ezard. “Nobody on the council wants to raise rates. They’re doing their due diligence as an elected official to make sure that we have water and sewer, and not have things happen that happened a couple of years ago where we’re without the water side for three weeks.”

Ezard is referring the devastating flood that shut down the current water plant for several weeks in 2011.

Before City Council passed the 2014 Utility Budget, it approved an ordinance using the Emergency Clause to change the way water rates are determined. Accountant John Eyth with Zumbahlen, Eyth, Surratt, Foote and Flynn says the old formula to figure rates had been used for decades and needed to be updated, but the main reason for the rate hike was the increase in the utility department budget.

The rate change and budget were both passed last night to give the water department time to implement the changes.

Typically, ordinances are passed using two votes at separate meetings. Aldermen Adonnis Shaw and Steve Warmowski balked at the use of the Emergency Clause. Shaw raised concern over the City Council’s process to approve the utility department’s proposed budget.

“The department heads develop a budget and that budget should then go to the responsible committee,” says Shaw. “That committee votes on it and sends it to the full body. That’s parliamentary procedure and that’s how it should go.”

“Currently, they devise a budget and send it directly for a vote, and I know that the aldermen aren’t really going line-by-line down the budget to figure out where we can find any cost savings because they don’t know,” says Shaw. “That’s why we need to have a committee meeting and sit down to go line-by-line and ask questions. We need to be included in the budgeting process and I believe the committee process has been taken out completely.”

City Council had two weeks to look over the budget, but Warmowski says he would have liked to seen the utility budget a month ago.

“There’s so many parts to the city and it does so much that each aldermen and all the aldermen collectively can’t look at everything,” says Warmowski. “If we get everything out in the public and if the public can review things and ask questions, I think just as a political process it’s strengthened. So, that’s why it’s good to have the budget out and have two readings on things so the public has a chance to have their input on things.”

Ezard says the process could be changed.

“We’re not perfect in the process and we can look at ways [to change],” says Ezard. “There were some good opinions and good conversation amongst the aldermen. We can look at the way things are done, but even if things were done earlier and we had this budget to the aldermen months ago it wouldn’t chance the rate increase. That was going to happen and we’ve been talking for the last two years now that it was going to happen. Now, unfortunately, 2014 is here and we’re going to see an increase.”

Warmowski also mentioned the idea of having the city offer water conservation kits, similar to what Springfield does.

The rate increase takes effect January 1st, 2014.