The Trenton City Council, on a split vote of five in favor and three opposed, accepted a committee recommendation to raise water and sewer rates across the board.
A motion was made to accept the recommended 20 percent hike in the sewer rate and a 15 percent increase in water rates. It was noted the increases would be effective with customer usage in December and get reflected on the January bills. This includes residential, commercial, and industrial accounts.
After a lengthy discussion, one motion was made regarding the rate increases. A request was then made for a roll call vote. Council members voting in favor of raising rates were Marvin Humphreys, Cathie Smith, Dave Mlika, Duane Urich, and John Dolan. Voting no were Glen Briggs, Kevin Klinginsmith, and Danny Brewer.
Several council members stated they did not like raising utility rates but also noted water and sewer projects will cost money and such projects are overdue. Cited were projects such as replacement of original clarifiers at the water treatment plant, replacement of drive motors, and replacement of aging water mains. Wastewater projects mentioned including replacement of aging and deteriorating sanitary sewer lines and manholes.
Information also was stated that the sewer department reserves are below the city council established minimums and the water department reserves are near the minimum amount that was set. In 2018, the council set the sewer department reserves at approximately five and a half million while placing the water department reserves at approximately one and a half million dollars.
While some of the council stated city leaders in the past have quoted “kicked the can down the road”, others stated the city has to start somewhere. Duane Urich stated the choice is either begin paying now or expect to pay more sometime in the future. Initiating the rate increases about two months from now was described as allowing TMU to begin to accumulate funds for the work that needs to be done.
City Administrator Ron Urton previously provided figures indicating one estimate on replacement of the two clarifiers could cost two point four million dollars. Urton also had reported half a million dollars could be spent within each department, annually on replacing aging water and sewer lines.
There also was a suggestion that smaller amounts of rate increases should be considered going forward, instead of enacting double-digit increases.
Councilman Glen Briggs said he knows the projects need to be done but questioned the timing of rate increases during the COVID-19 environment. Others indicated COVID-19 will likely continue to be challenging while costs likely go up on the water and sewer projects. Other comments focused on what effect the rate increases will have on the Nestle’s plant.
Administrator Urton said he discussed the topic with Manager Andy Darley who indicated to him that annual increases of two to three percent would be better, but Urton told the council the city can not wait on the needed improvements as smaller increases often get eaten up by inflationary factors affecting utility companies.
Prior to the discussion on the rate increases, the city council took quick action on three other recommendations advanced last week by the utility committee.
Approval was given to repairs of one of the river intake pumps that pump water from the river to the city reservoir. The estimated cost of repairs is $27,384. Douglas Pump Service of Overland Park, Kansas will do the repairs, re-assemble, re-install, and perform start up into the system.
Asplundh Tree Experts LLC was hired to do tree trimming around the TMU electric lines. The cost for a two-man crew and trucks is $120.87 per hour. Due to other projects, the company expects to begin the job at Trenton in January.
The council agreed to amend the budget to allow for sludge disposal at the water treatment plant done in the past fiscal year, plus the current fiscal year, to be paid from the current budget. That combined cost is $220,000.
Five city councilmen were physically present at city hall for the meeting Monday evening including Cathie Smith, Dave Mlika, Glen Briggs, Danny Brewer, and Marvin Humphreys.
Councilmen participating via Zoom were Duane Urich, John Dolan, and Kevin Klinginsmith. Also on zoom was Mayor Linda Crooks and city attorney Tara Walker. Others present at city hall were Administrator Urton and city clerk Cindy Simpson.
The council also convened in a closed executive session for legal and real estate.