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Water rates on rise again in W’bago

By Staff | Feb 14, 2011

Austin Bleess

The Winnebago’s Utility Committee will be tweaking a new water tier billing system following Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.

Some residents told council members they aren’t happy being charged for gallons of water not used.

Lawrence Sickler, owner of Shorty’s Plumbing & Sewer Repair, says a resident using 4,200 gallons a month is billed for 5,000 because it is rounded up to the next thousand.

“At the end of the year, it’s like paying another bill, 13 in a year. I don’t think it’s fair to charge for 800 gallons of water that’s not used,” says Sickler.

City Administrator Austin Bleess told those in attendance the state is requiring cities to have a tier system by 2013.

“We’re a little bit ahead of the game. The council decided this is the time to raise rates,” Bleess says.

Councilman Scott Robertson says he’s had numerous calls from residents whose monthly bill increased by $30.

Bleess and Rick Mauris, head of the water department, say the higher rates also are needed to help offset deficits.

“We can’t lose $80,000 a year. We’ve been doing that year after year since 2000,” says Mauris.

When Councilman Chris Ziegler asked Bleess if the tier had to be set at every thousand, he said no.

“Is it an option to go to 500?” asked Robertson.

Resident Sheryl Gunzenhauser says no one is complaining about the higher rates, residents just want to pay their fair share.

“Give us a rate increase, but don’t charge us for what we’re not using,” she says.

Sickler says he checked with surrounding towns and most charge for the amount of water actually used.

He says some systems allow residents to carry over any excess amount to their next bill.

For example, if a resident uses 4,200 gallons they would pay for 4,000 and 200 would go on their next bill.

Bleess says the “billing software” doesn’t allow them to round usage downward.

Clint Eastman, head of the street department, asked if the amount of water actually used could be shown on monthly bills.

He says residents would then know how much less water they would have to use to get down to the next tier.

Councilman Rick Johnson reassured the residents their concerns would be taken into consideration.

“The council appreciates hearing this. You can’t think of everything when you set this up,” says Johnson. “We can look into the (computer) software and see what can be done.”

The council discussed adding a sewer system project to the wastewater treatment plant upgrade for financing purposes.

By doing so, the city would obtain a lower interest rate and save about $10,000 in bond administration costs.

Council members agreed repairing the sewer system along Main Street — from First Avenue Southwest to First Avenue Northeast — is long overdue.

However, they debated whether property owners should be required to make the repairs and how much would it cost them.

Bleess says the system also will be televised to check its condition.

“That will tell us if we have to just line the pipes or dig up the street,” he says.

The council decided to make participation mandatory and charge property owners a flat fee of 25 percent for the project costs.

A public hearing has been set for the next council meeting on March 8.

In other business:

• Preliminary figures show the city finished last year with a $14,000 surplus.

Bleess says the Legislature has voted to cut the city’s LGA payment by $61,226, however, $28,542 can be reimbursed by the Market Value Tax Credit.

“I’m confident we can deal with those cuts with minimal disruptions,” he says.

• The city will hire a full-time employee to fulfill a stipulation agreement the city signed with the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency in December.

The employee’s time will be divided between the water department, wastewater treatment plant and streets/parks department.

• The council accepted the resignation of Muir Library director Judy Tupper effective April 9 and librarian Joyce Roe effective April 23. Bleess will fill the positions.