Iolans will see a 5 percent increase in their monthly water and sewer charges, starting in January.
Iola City Council members agreed to the rate hike Monday after visiting at length with city officials about ongoing maintenance issues.
Gas, Water and Wastewater Superintendent Mitch Phillips estimated city crews replaced about 3,500 feet of water lines in 2013 and repaired 45 water leaks.
While Iola has a state-of-the-art water treatment facility, capable of producing the cleanest drinking water in the state, the city’s aging water lines continue to be a headache, Phillips and Water Plant Superintendent Toby Ross agreed.
In addition, the city must still make annual $600,000 payments on the water plant through 2025, and will pay on a $2.8 million upgrade to the city’s sewer system through 2028.
The issues have taxed the city’s reserves to the point the city must again raise rates to keep up with mounting costs, Council members agreed.
Rate hikes instituted in 2012 helped stem the losses, but are again falling short of what’s needed to keep both in line, City Administrator Carl Slaugh said.
The city’s water line repair budget has increased steadily from $58,128 in 2012-13, to a projected $100,000 in 2015.
According to figures provided by Slaugh, the 5 percent rate hike will bring an additional $101,000 annually into the water fund, and another $42,000 into the wastewater fund.
Council members agreed to the rate hike, but asked the increase be delayed until 2015 to allow a $5 surcharge on electric customers to expire on Dec. 31 as scheduled.
The surcharge was instituted earlier this year to help the city make up lost revenue on its countywide ambulance service.
“I agree something needs to be done, but I can’t support this until that $5 surcharge comes off,” Councilman Gene Myrick said.
A renegotiated contract with the county, and new call-in policies to curb overtime costs, should be enough to allow the city to do away with the surcharge, Slaugh agreed.
“We need to be aggressive with this,” Councilman Steve French said in regard to repairs. He wondered if the city would be better served by hiring summer crews to assist with water line replacement.
Slaugh promised to consider the suggestion, noting manpower shortages within the city meant fewer old lines have been replaced so far in 2014.
THE CITY WILL spend $697,500 to ensure its diesel generators remain in compliance with Environmental Protection Agency standards.
Council members approved the expenditure to install oxidation catalysts on the five generators in 2015.
The catalysts are necessary to meet tighter emissions standards through the EPA’s Reciprocation Internal Combustion Engines (RICE) National Emissions Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) program.
Without the upgrades, the city was in jeopardy of being forced to use the generators only on an emergency basis, and could not include those when figuring the city’s generating capacity. Iola’s generating capacity is figured into the city’s wholesale electric contract. More generating power computes to more favorable electric rates.
The city already has $172,500 in its reserves for the upgrades, plus another $450,000 budgeted in 2015, Slaugh said.
That still leaves the city $75,000 short of its goal, Slaugh said. That money likely will come from the city’s electric reserve fund.