Council gets first look at rate study
The Lennox City Council held their first regular meeting of the month on February 12th, and it was a lengthy one. The council went into executive session around 9:30 p.m. for personnel reasons.
A lot of information was given at the meeting — one was good news on the sump pump removal efforts by the City of Lennox. In the summer of 2016, the City of Lennox began the sump pump removal program in an effort to decrease the amount of groundwater being treated at the wastewater treatment facility (WWTF). Testing to compare the gallons per day coming into the WWTF in January 2016 and in 2018 show a drastic reduction in water coming in. Removing the sump pumps from the sanitary sewer system reduced the amount by an average of 122,000 gallons per day. City Administrator Amanda Anglin outlined the findings in a column on page 3 of this week’s newspaper.
She said at the meeting, “This means the treatment plant is doing exactly what it is designed to do and we are getting the waste to the plant that we need to continue the micro-biology process… I thank the residents of Lennox for participating in this program and helping us; essentially this is decreasing the cost to treat the water at the plant.”
Another informative portion of the meeting dealt with the 2018 rate study and capital improvement plan put together by Stockwell Engineering and the City of Lennox staff.
Both of these documents are available HERE.
City Engineer, Mitch Mergen walked the council through the findings. The city’s infrastructure plan includes a list of projects recommended by city staff to be completed in the next five years, estimated costs have been provided by the city engineer and represented in today’s dollars. Some of the projects include the highway 44 pedestrian trail, the Main Street (Hwy 44 to Oriole Ave.), Central Basin Project Phase 2 and 3 and the Westerman Park Pool Project. The rate study included an over view of the water fund, the sanitary sewer fund and the storm drainage fund. The reality of the numbers was that a rate increase would be needed to afford any project — a 2% increase in rates every year was presented for the Lennox Water Fund. Several options for rate increases in the Lennox Sanitary Sewer fund were presented, depending on the projects to fund, one example was rate increases by 20% the first year, 10% the second year and 3% every year after that, another option was 20% the first year, 10% the second year, 5% the third year and 3% after that. A 2% rate increase in the Lennox Storm Drainage Fund was recommended.
There was some discussion on when rates had last been raised. Anglin said there hasn’t been an increase in the Sewer Fund in seven years except what was done last year. She said that the city was trying to run the WWTF on a lagoon budget.
John Kirchner said, “There’s only two communities that pay more for water than we do and that has nothing to do with our treatment plant. That’s separate. So we’re gonna tell them we have to raise this, but we’re the third most expensive water in the region — that’s a hard thing to explain. There’s others ways we need to look at first of conserving cash. Before we make a decision that’s going to affect a lot of people.”
Councilman Brock Rops said, “The community has to know this is a need not a want. I know why the people of Lennox are upset, in the minutes that I’ve looked at, we’ve mismanaged probably 3.9 million dollars in the last decade.”
Anglin explained that when looking for funding for projects there was a state minimum that the community had to meet as far as rates go. She said she hears from people frequently that Lennox keeps increasing the rates, but in her research she said that was not the case. She said the water was increased in 2004 to $15, but the surcharges were added. The rate had not changed.
City Finance Officer Donna Houck said, “There is no base rate in water, that’s part of the problem. There should be a base rate to cover operating expenses. Then when you take out debt, you tack on a surcharge. That’s not being done, what they did— they took the flat rate and split it up and made it look like a surcharge… they didn’t create anymore revenue; they totally screwed themselves.”
Councilman Rops said, “We’re at a tipping point that’s been coming for the last 25 years because of lack of whatever you call it, but that’s the truth.”
Houck said, “It’s inevitable, you guys went down over $500,000 last year, and most of it was for projects that you probably shouldn’t have done. If you keep losing over $500,000 every year, in a couple years you’re going to run out of money entirely, you’re going to bankrupt the city.”
Anglin said, “We need to run the city like a business.”
Council said that the rate increases would be discussed at a future meeting.
The Capital Improvement plan, available online in its entirety was designed to serve as a guide for the citizens of Lennox and outlines the plans for investing public funds and details the city’s financial strategy for the next five years. According to the document, the capital program has a strong focus on preparing for growth, maintaining the city’s current infrastructure, promoting recreation and exceeding the standard of public safety.
Other business addressed at the Monday night meeting included:
The council approved the consent agenda which included minutes, finance reports, claims and the January payroll. With no visitors to be heard the council then approved the Community Access Grant Agreement.