Budget approved, tough questions still remain

The Richmond City Council passed the new budget last night, but big problems loom on the horizon and some got bigger with the new budget.
The budget that was put before the council last week accounted for an increase in water and sewer rates. The council voted down a measure that would have increased the rates.
The council will vote on raising sewer rates next month. After the rate increases failed, the council had to call last night’s special meeting to revise the budget. City staff had to find $70,000 to slash from the water fund budget and another $30,000 from the sewer budget.
Some unpopular decisions were made when the slashes were made. $25,000 was removed from water-line material replacement leaving only $14,500 in the budget for the year. This year the city spent more than $39,000 on water-line repairs.
Also removed from the water budget is $20,000 that was meant for sludge removal. City Administrator Rick Childers said that the Department of Natural Resources has told the city they must address the sludge issue. Childers said the issue has gone unaddressed for more than 10 years. Last year’s estimates for removing all of the sludge came in at more than $300,000. Childers said if not addressed, DNR could require all of the sludge be removed at once.
“More than likely they would order us to abate it immediately,” Childers said.
$25,000 was also removed from the wastewater fund for engineering. Childers said that money would be used for plans for the South Waste Water Plant but the city doesn’t have the money to fix the problems anyway.
Two council members voted against the budget approval. Scott Marshall and Melissa Miller both said afterwards that they’re not comfortable with the budget because of the cuts.
“I was a little disappointed we couldn’t address sludge removal,” Miller said. “I was really disappointed and I really think the waterlines should be addressed.”
“I’m afraid the infrastructure of our water and sewer systems is going to be greatly affected by this,” Marshall added.
Marshall also brought up a possible state mandated audit that a citizen group has organized. He said the audit could cost taxpayers more than $30,000.
Marshall pointed to an audit for Mt. Vernon, Mo. that says money surpluses from water funds should not be transferred to the general revenue like they are every year for the purchase of the cemetery.
In 1996, the Richmond City Council won a bid to purchase the cemetery. At that time the city used funds from the water department to make the purchase.
Marshall, who voted for the rate increase last week, said the city could face a $100,000 swing by not passing the rates increase and the audit.
“It’s going to cost the taxpayers and we have to consider that too. We’ve got to be prepared for that,” Marshall said. “Nobody wants an increase, but we’re going to dig ourselves into a hole here.”
Childers pointed to a current grant application for wastewater. He points to questions in the application that inquire about median income and where current rates are.
“This simply confirms the information we already knew,” Childers said. “That’s the information they’re looking for.”
On a brighter note, Childers plans on meeting with the city of Henrietta tomorrow night to possibly work out an agreement with Henrietta to supply water. Early estimates indicate that most if not all of the lost revenue from the rate increases could be made up if Henrietta decides to buy water.
“That seems to be moving forward, but I’m not willing to put it into a budget without a signed agreement,” Childers said. “I suspect at some time we will enter into an agreement with Henrietta.”
No comments from the public were accepted.

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