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The Richmond City Council voted down a measure that would have increased water rates for those living inside the city limits. No action was taken on rates outside the city.
Perhaps some council members were swayed by some emotional testimony by retired residents at a public hearing Wednesday night before the council voted on the increase.
Retired resident Bruce Bartlett said he realizes the city has problems with funding the water and sewer systems, but something should have been done about that long ago.
“We should have given some thought in the past to either passing a bond issue or something else besides hanging the retired people with this great debt that we have,” Bartlett said.
Bartlett said he could remember many city council members saying they would fight an increase when they ran for office. Now he says retired seniors are shouldering the load of rate increases.
“Does anybody know what the percentage of the retired people in this community is over the others?” he asked. “I feel like we’re shouldering the burden and we have no recourse. We have no way of obtaining future funds. Don’t take it out of the pockets of the senior citizens.”
Resident Jim Rippy said he doesn’t agree with administrative funds being transferred from the water fund to the general fund.
“I think it’s excessive and I don’t think you’re basing it on actual billing of expenses. It’s just a number that somebody has suggested as a right number,” he said.
Former Mayor Ed Lee Swafford said Richmond has some of the highest rates in the state according to a 2007 Missouri Municipal League survey that included 61 cities. At that time Swafford says, Richmond had the sixth highest rates. After last year’s rate increase, he contends Richmond is now probably the highest.
“I like to hear about Richmond being state champions but I don’t want it to be for the highest water rates,” he said. “After the water increase last year, we were the champions after the increase.”
Mayor Lance Green challenged Swafford’s interpretation of the study. He said he read the same study and saw that 24 cities had higher bills. As far as other cities go, Green said they probably have faced increases as well.
City Administrator Rick Childers said that in order to get state and federal grant funding, the city will need to prove that it is trying to keep rates inline with what the Missouri Water and Wastewater Review Committee has targeted as keeping up with the cost of living. The review committee is made up of the United States Department of Agriculture, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the Missouri Department of Economic development. The review committee is responsible for reviewing applications and directing applications to the appropriate departments for grants and loans to replace outdated systems.
In an e-mail provided by Childers, Barbara Ross with the review committee, said Richmond’s median income according to the 2000 census is $33,514. She said water target rates are calculated by two percent of the median income. According to her calculations, a 5,000-gallon user should be charged about $55.86. If the rate had passed, Richmond would have been about $45 for 5,000 gallons or about $2.50 a month.
Councilwoman Melissa Miller voted in favor of the rate increase but said she wanted to explore what it would cost to buy water.
“I don’t know why it costs the city so much to make the water, I don’t know if it’s any cheaper,” she said. “We’re basically facing two evils. We have to decide: do we want to have a balanced budget – or not raise water rates.”
Along with Miller, Councilmen Scott Marshall and Jason Berning voted for the increase.
Childers, who has extensive experience working with small communities in Missouri, said it would be difficult to obtain grants if the city doesn’t show intent to help fix the system. He said members also need to think about $160,000 in bond payments each year to cover the water tower before they explore buying water.
“If it looks to them the intent is to use grant money to fix the system, but we’re not going to put any of our money into it, then you won’t get grant money,” he said. “$160,000 divided by 2,500 households – that’s a chunk.”
The council will hold a public hearing Oct. 22 to discuss sewer rates.