The City Council of Webster City on Monday tackled a large and varied agenda, but the matter receiving the most discussion is the need to address increased costs of operating the city’s water utility.
And how best to stabilize it with more revenues from increased water rates.
The problem is complex, but water and sewer rates in Webster City were increased only twice in recent years; specifically 2009 and 2021. In 2021, it became apparent the present water treatment plant was nearing the end of its useful life, and would have to be replaced. Timing for construction of this facility is crucial, with the city also involved in other expensive capital expenditures for a new wastewater treatment plant.
Based on work by city staff, and analysis by a water utility consultant, Des Moines-based PFM Inc., a council memorandum proposing major revisions to the city’s water rate ordinance passed will impact users this way:
Increasing both base and water use rates by 30% on January 1, 2024;
Increasing them a further 20% on January 1, 2025;
With annual increases of 5% each year thereafter.
Indicative of the need for more revenue to keep the water utility viable is this statement, taken directly from the council memorandum: “It was very clear that even without future improvements, our current water revenue is not able to keep up with increasing operating and improvement expenses.”
After the council approved the increases, Councilman Logan Welch commented, “I hope the community can understand the situation we’re in with this matter. This will seem like a large increase to ratepayers, but it is, in fact, the smallest increase we can make, and still ensure the basic viability of our water system.”
The council was clear in confirming the rate increases are necessary to “right the ship” of the water utility’s finances, and have nothing to do with when a new water treatment plant is built.
“It’s probably at least five years before we could consider construction of a new water plant,” said Councilman Matt McKinney. He continued, “no decision on whether to upgrade the present facility, or build a completely new one has been made yet. Either way, we need the cash flow to begin as soon as possible.”
Two 2024 road construction projects were discussed.
The first, a substantial rebuilding of Fair Meadow Drive between Superior and Des Moines streets, includes curb, gutter, concrete pavement, driveway approaches, sanitary sewer, storm sewer and water main improvements.
Three additional, much smaller projects, are driveway repairs leading to what’s known as the Daily Freeman Journal parking lot on First Street, east of Prospect Street, north curb and gutter replacement on First Street between Seneca and Superior streets, and paving in Graceland Cemetery at Ohio Street near the intersection of Sunset Drive.
Consultant Snyder & Associates, Ankeny, estimated the entire package at $1,695,963.50, but the low bid, from Castor Construction, Fort Dodge, was $1,902,920.90; more than $206,000 higher.
Street Superintendent Brandon Bahrenfuss explained most of the increase comes in the form of labor costs associated with the need for three flaggers, and a supervisor to coordinate traffic movement, who will work on a “day and night” schedule. Castor previously worked on the Lincoln Drive and Second Street reconstruction projects.
The council also authorized a 2024 HMA (hot mix asphalt) paving program in the 600 block of Elm Street (from, and including, the intersection with Des Moines Street to Willson Avenue), and the 500 block of Webster Street (from Willson Avenue to Seneca Street). Paving in these blocks is rated “poor” and “very poor,” respectively, at present. Work will begin between June 3 and July 1, 2024, and conclude by August 12, 2024. A public hearing on the projects is scheduled on January 2, 2024, at City Hall, at 6.05 p.m. Streets paved with HMA are 95% stone, gravel and sand, bound by asphalt cement, and more economical than concrete paving.