Water rates will be going up for Lonoke residents with the results of the special city council meeting held Monday, Jan. 27. The water rate for each usage tier by 50 cents – average users could see a $7 increase their bills.
Mayor Wayne McGee and aldermen Janie Derning, Danny Whitehurst, Pat Howell, Wendell Walker, Efrem Jones, Raymond Hatton, Michael Florence and Koy Butler attended the meeting.
There were seven agenda items for meeting: finalize the city’s 2013 budget and adopt the 2014 budget; consider water/wastewater rates; consider quotes for repairs at the police department and for dugouts at the city ball field; removal of some trees and action on two condemned properties.
In the rate increases, the council had three options from which to choose: $1 increase of the minimum rate, to bring about $43,000 annually to the water department; 50-cent increase only to each usage tier, to bring about $108,000 annually to the water department; or increase the minimum rate and each usage tier, to bring about $152,000 more to the water department.
During discussions, McGee noted that while the average user could expect a $7 increase, high users would see more.
While the council members agreed an increase is needed, and chose the option to increase rate on each usage tier, Howell called for the additional funds to be dedicated to a specific purpose. It should not be simply put into the department as general funds, he said.
"There has been a lot said about how broke we are," Howell said. But the city’s bond obligations have always been met through the revenue the department has generated, and it should remain that way. Any increase should be dedicated to a specific area, such as improvements in the area of the high school, he said.
"The city is in as good of [financial] shape as it has ever been," Howell remarked.
"I am not opposed to a water increase … I want to know where it is going to go," Howell remarked during discussions. He explained that there are other considerations under way in city infrastructure improvements, and he is concerned that repairs made with through the rate increase would be wasted when the improvements are made.
Howell called for a consultant to be hired to develop a strategy to best use the funds while not making improvements that would soon be destroyed by yet other infrastructure changes.
Before the rate increase was voted upon, the aldermen voted to place the new funds in a CD dedicated repairs. Hatton voted against the motion.
"We can always go back and re-visit [the increase]," Derning said.
On the rate increase, Howell, Hatton and Walker voted against.
In other matters, aldermen approved waterproofing improvements for the police department at $1,987; $14,500 for new dugouts at the ball field; authorized the mayor to spend up to $5,000 for removal of three trees on Second Street.
Action on condemned properties was tabled to the next city council meeting.