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City wastewater rates likely going up

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

It appears wastewater rates will be going up in the city of Blytheville, but not this month.

Tuesday night, the Blytheville City Council tabled a proposed ordinance that would raise wastewater rates because of an ordinance passed in 2009.

Councilman Tommy Abbott, who chairs the Finance Committee, suggested delaying the first reading until February because Council members are working on the 2013 budget that must be approved by Feb. 1. He said once the budget process is completed, they will have an idea where the city stands financially.

The proposed ordinance would increase the Class 1 residential wastewater rate (3,000 gallons per month or less) from $12.57 to $13.90 per month. However, if the Council takes no action, the automatic rate hike goes to $15.36 a month because of wording in Ordinance 1686. Last year, the Council suspended the automatic rate hike, after learning the city would be spending $1 million less on the Milestone Study, a sewer system upgrade that was initiated by a consent order from the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.

"It's almost like the Bush tax cuts," Mayor James Sanders explained. "If it's not voted on to go back to the 2012 rates, then because the ordinance is already in place and that there was a window in there that said that those rates would be increased at the Council's request automatically or the Council could pull that back. Well, the Council elected to pull it back. So now, if we don't go back, instead of requesting the 2012 (figure), it will go to the 2013, which is a higher rate."

According to the ordinance that passed unanimously on March 17, 2009, Class 1 residential wastewater rates were originally scheduled to be $11.36 in 2010; $12.57 in 2011; $13.90 in 2012; $15.36 in 2013; and $16.97 in 2014.

Back then, Wastewater Superintendent Kenneth Ellis said the rate increases were critical for the city to maintain requirements set by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality, specifically an ionization issue a number of cities across the state face.

The only current city leaders at the table when the Council passed the original measure were Mayor Sanders, a council member then, and new Councilman R.L. Jones, who was off the Council the last two years after serving on it the previous 16.

Jones said the ordinance was created so the wastewater department wouldn't have shortfalls in its budget.

He said if the 2012 Council hadn't taken action, the new board would not be considering the measure this year.

"I understand the purpose for it in the beginning," Sanders said. "The purpose for it in the beginning was to create it so that no one would have to continue to go back and request rate increases because it would have already been in place and those rate increases would be automatic."

Councilman John Musgraves, who chairs the Airport and Utilities Committee, said the city does not like to implement rate increases.

"You talk about rate increases and automatically people get upset and get offended, and I can't blame them," Musgraves said. "But this is probably something that is going to have to happen."

Procedure rules tabled

Meanwhile, the Council also tabled a resolution establishing rules of order and procedures for Council and committee meetings.

City attorney Mike Bearden said the resolution includes changes recommended by the 2012 Council, which didn't set rules of order last year, instead basically operating off the 2011 rules.

Jones expressed concerns about citizens having to go through a process to speak at Council meetings. He said under previous administrations, anyone who wished to speak was afforded that opportunity, even if it was a general comment. Former Mayor Barrett Harrison would ask if anyone wanted to address the City Council after regular business concluded and, at times, allowed public comment during discussion of a hot-button issue.

Musgraves argued there should be structure at Council meetings.

Abbott agreed.

"This is a board of directors meeting for the city of Blytheville," Abbott said. "What I've seen in the past is, that moment becomes bigger and turns into something else. I don't consider it jumping through hoops to ask people to go through a process because they have access to us as Council members."

Bearden added that the proposed resolution allows a Council member to put a citizen on the agenda to speak.

"If they've got an issue they want to talk about, they go to the City Council person first," Bearden said, describing a rule on non-agenda items that was in place during the Harrison administration. "If they don't handle it, then they go to the committee. If the committee doesn't handle it, it goes to the mayor to be put on the agenda to be brought up at the next Council meeting. It's a non-agenda item paragraph, which is the same thing that is in this new resolution that I've prepared except it requires them to go through that procedure every time, unless the City Council person wants to put them on the agenda. They've always got that right. So the issue is do you want people on agenda items to have to go through that procedure first or do you want them to be allowed to come and be recognized by the presiding officer and then speak."

Sanders noted the mayor's office is not "trying skirt past any issues."

"The fact of the matter is you Council members were elected by people in your ward to voice concerns of those people, so therefore the first option is that person should go to you to get that issue taken care of," the mayor said.

Other business

Also during Tuesday night's 1 1/2 hour meeting, the new Council:

-- Read three times and unanimously adopted an ordinance that cleans up Ordinance 1645, which involves the Historic District Commission. The change corrects a technical mistake on the Arkansas Code Annotated section. It now reads: "It is the legislative intent of the Blytheville City Council to grant to the Blytheville Historic District Commission Authority to the extent allowed under the Arkansas Historic District Act, Act 484 of 1963 as amended and codified at Arkansas Code Annotated Section 14-172-201, et seq. Should Arkansas law hereafter be amended, this Ordinance shall conform to state law."

-- Read once an ordinance adopting the design guidelines manual of the Blytheville Downtown Historic District, which was approved by the Blytheville Planning Commission. Councilman Stan Parks said the Historic District has been using guidelines set by the national trust. A few years ago, the Historic District Commission received a grant to pay for the formation of the new design guidelines being proposed.

-- Heard from Parks, who chairs the Police and Fire Committee, that the appeal hearing for terminated Blytheville police officer Rodney Richardson will likely be either Monday or Tuesday. Richardson was relieved of his duties last month, accused of abusing sick leave. Richardson, who pastors a church in Osceola, claims he was terminated for going to church on a Sunday he was scheduled to work, but had a doctor's excuse to be off.

-- Read once an ordinance providing minimum energy standards for new buildings and additions to existing structures. Sanders noted he received information from the Municipal League, after the December Council meeting, requesting that the city pass the measure by Dec. 31, 2012. Sanders said mayors can submit a letter saying why the city didn't comply and it has 60 days to do so. Parks noted the proposal is simply adopting the state energy standards.

-- With a 5-0 vote, made Musgraves the president tempore of the Council. Parks nominated Musgraves for the position. Voting in favor were Parks, Jones, Musgraves, Kevin Snow and Abbott. Councilwoman Missy Langston abstained.

-- Voted unanimously to authorize the mayor to enter into a lease agreement with the University of Arkansas, acting on behalf of the Arkansas Archeological Survey. The city sub-leases Arkansas Aeroplex, Building 1244 that it rents from the Blytheville Gosnell Regional Airport Authority to UA for $9,286 annually for a term commencing July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013.

-- Voted unanimously to condemn the following structures: 1016 Lilly, owner of record Charles Valley of Blytheville; 1028 16th St., owner of record Sanford and Olie Cunningham of Blytheville; 1032 16th St., owner of record Yvonne Howerton of Alexander, Va.; 2200 Chickasawba, owner of record John T. Elliott of Blytheville; and 1004 Denny St., owner of record Kyrisha Reneesea Carter of Blytheville.

-- Voted unanimously to accept the resignation of Gary Griffin from the City Advertising and Tourism Promotion Commission and appoint Christie Patterson to finish his term, which expires Nov. 15, 2014.


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