City manages money

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, February 15, 2017
It was a long meeting Tuesday, Feb. 7, for the city council, where sewer rates, contributions to independent agencies and lighting at Dutton Park were just a few of the topics discussed.

To begin, the city could be raising sewer rates by 6 percent this year, with plans to raise them an additional 6 percent next year if needed to maintain the utility.

“That’s with moving projects back,” said City Engineer for Veenstra & Kimm Leo Foley, “But it looks promising to me that in a five year window you’ll be able to begin picking them up again.”

The council discussed raising sewer rates this March in order to have numbers to put into the city budget, which is due March 15. No official decisions were made, just discussion.

However, the city is attempting to put some sort of number on an increase. Sewer rates went up 3.5 percent last July 2016, and 3.5 percent before that in December 2015.

For a city the size of West Liberty, a healthy sewer fund balance should be around $1 million. More or less it’s there, with a balance of around $750,000.

That’ll go up soon when it receives an additional $220,000 from an SRF loan it took out to cover recent upgrades and construction at the sewer plant.

But, that SRF loan stops paying out next year, instead it will be West Liberty’s turn to start making the payments.

“We figure you’re going to be about $200,000 to $300,000 below where you are this year for next year,” added City Engineer Leo Foley.

“Essentially you’re looking at a 6 percent increase in cost” he said, justifying the 6 percent rate increase. “We think you’re going to be in pretty good shape after that.”

Basically, by raising the rates by 6 percent the city should not only be able to begin payments into the SRF loan, but cover upcoming projects and costs for the year at the sewer plant.

Veenstra & Kimm originally recommended a 12 percent increase, but upon revisiting the number with the city, decided to go with 6 percent.

“We looked at a lot of projects and where things were at,” said City Manager Lawrence McNaul, recommending they go with 6 percent and revisit it again in a year.

The sewer utility, along with the water and electric utility, all went under rate increases last year in order to get on par with the city’s need and state average.

What made it painful was, up until that point many of the utilities except for sewer had not been raised for as long as 10 to 15 years.

The plan now is to incur smaller, incremental raises with all utilities, including the sewer. However, the sewer fund has been much healthier than the other mentioned funds.

Regarding sewer, the city is still paying off bonds for a $3.6 million wastewater improvement project from 2008 and the SRF loan for a recent multi-million dollar upgrade.

Both projects were mandated by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, with the second expected to be completed sometime this year.

Next, the city approved contributions to the Chamber of Commerce, We Lead and the Milestone Area Agency on Aging which operates the Senior Mealsite.

The Chamber will receive $5,000, of which $1,200 is for membership dues while the remaining $3,800 will go towards community events.

“We give quite a bit in exchange for Picnic in the Park and some other things,” said council member Melody Russel. “That takes a lot of our resources.”

According to Parks and Recreation Director Nick Heath it costs around $1,400 in wages alone for lifeguards for the annual day of free swim alongside Picnic in the Park.

This led into greater discussion about how the money is used; a few years ago the city began requiring reports on how the independent agencies are using the money.

“In the last two to four years we’ve been making agencies that we do give money to, come and explain why and try to be accountable for the money,” said Mayor Robert Hartman.

So far both the Chamber and We Lead have given reports to the council, and it looks like they’ll be asked to keep doing so in order to receive the most current donations.

Council member Joey Iske asked what sort of return comes to the city from the contributions, especially as it continues to cope with fixing its own utility funds.

However, the fact came up that both the Chamber and We Lead are losing funding from Iowa State University. Both organizations are coming up with their own plans.

“We still are in negotiations with Iowa State University,” said Vice President of West Liberty Economic Area Development (We Lead) Dana Nelson.

“As it stands now they are being very vague as to what they can offer,” she added, noting that the organization is planning for the possibility of no ISU funding.

The council approved $57,500 for We Lead from the city over a three year period, which will help it as it searches for a new director.

We Lead helps market the city of West Liberty and aids economic growth, with its biggest accomplishment of 2016 being the completion of the Regional Learning and Cultural Center.

The city approved $3,600 in rent at the West Liberty Community Center for Senior Mealsite meals, around 60 percent of the meals are served in the facility.

Meanwhile, it also approved $3,000 for the Milestone Area Agency on Aging for providing those meals to the community.

They serve around 3,500 meals a year in West Liberty. Because they don’t charge it costs them around $14,000 a year, with only $7,000 covered through donations.

Finally, it looks like the Dutton Sports Complex will be kept in the dark for another year, given the hefty price tag of installing lights at the complex.

“I think we can see it in our budget, but I don’t know if we’re quite here,” said City Manager McNaul. “We’ve got a lot of projects this year, Maxson is huge.”

The $1.8 million Maxson Street reconstruction project begins soon alongside the acquisition of a new city transformer and closing out construction projects at the water and waste water plants.

“We should let these other projects resolve themselves and get that general fund up to where it was,” said McNaul, believing that taking on Dutton this year would put the town in a tough financial pickle.

Even with a discount from Musco Lighting of Muscatine, it would cost West Liberty around $659,000 to get the materials, installation and electrical work completed.

It’s a big sports park, including four baseball/softball diamonds, several soccer fields, a small playground and skate park and large parking area.

There was talk of tying it in with the lighting in the Maxson Street project, but ultimately with the new transformer/switch gear coming, it would be too much for the city.

“So because of the amount of electrical work folks are going to give to put into Maxson this would be spreading them too thin?” asked Council Member Melody Russell.

After she was given a yes, she asked about getting a trail out the complex. However, no progress has been made in that direction either as of yet.

So it looks like the city will look into alternatives for financing lights, which includes grants. It isn’t a lost cause, but getting lights to Dutton may still take some time.

In other news…

-The city will purchase a 2008 Peterbilt garbage truck for $49,200 by trading in two older trucks that no longer work, while continuing to use another truck on loan. The aim will then be to build up the fleet in years to come.

-The Reverse Osmosis purification system arrived in West Liberty from Florida on Monday, Feb. 12, and was installed at the Water Plant.

-West Liberty entered into a 10 year contract with CH2M for managing the Wast Water Treatment Plan with the annual base fee of $908,045 holding for two years. CH2M has been in charge of waste water for the city for 18 years.

-There will be two public hearings regarding the $1.8 million construction project coming for Maxson Avenue this spring. The first, Feb. 21, will be regarding electric plans. The second, March 7, will be regarding everything else including letting plans.

-The city will use money from the Road Use Tax Fund to pay off a negative balance in the Street Capital Improvements fund from 2010, which has been written up by the auditors every year.

-The Downtown Task Force is asking for its charter to be amended in order to form a partnership with the Muscatine County Historical Preservation Committee. This will help the task force, which was created last year to help with building code and maintenance.

-After discovering an electrical billing error the city has sent out the proper notices with the exception of those accounts owing $1 or less, simply because it would cost the city $12.07 to recoup $11.76.

-There will be a public hearing for the 2017/2018 Fiscal Budget Year held on March 7, 2017 during the regular city council meeting beginning at 7:30 p.m.

-Council Member Cara McFerren noted that garbage is getting out of hand at the Prairie Street apartments, located by West Liberty Foods. The property owners will be sent a notice.

-The West Liberty Police Department is handing out blue lights in order to support law enforcement and first responders.

-Given the length of the meeting, the council opted to table a close session regarding an evaluation of the City Clerk until the next council meeting scheduled for Feb. 21.

-West Liberty Chamber of Commerce Past President Steve Hanson gave the council and overview of the Chamber’s activity in 2016.

-The council approved its regular council meeting minutes from Jan. 17, 2017, as well as a vendor/voucher claims list in the amount of $819,260.04 less Payroll.

-The council approved a Class B Beer Permit for Carnitas Nino, a Class C Beer Permit for Giri BP and a Class C Beer Permit and Change in Ownership for the Casey’s General Store.

-Effective after the next election cycle in November, council members will be paid a flat $75 per meeting. This is to include their participation on other boards and committees.
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