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Meters, rates addressed by Rosston City Council

By Staff, 02/13/18 9:34 AM

WATER6

ROSSTON – It was standing room only for the February meeting of the Rosston City Council Monday night.

The issues at hand were the recently increased water rates and the city’s requiring one water meter per household. This didn’t set well with several residents as more than a dozen people gathered in the community’s small city hall. The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently did a rate study of the Rosston Rural Water System and found the rates to be too low to properly maintain and operate the system and pay off the bonds. A rate hike was suggested and approved by the council.

Herbert Coleman, justice of the peace for District 6, was on hand telling how he’s been getting calls about the water rates and the city’s decision to require one meter per household. He asked since the new rates have gone into effect the city consider using the old rates for the meters. According to Coleman, the new rates are about 25 percent more than before on average.

Rosston Mayor Lewis Jackson said the new rates were figured based on 4,000-gallon usage per household per month, adding this was done by the USDA, not the City of Rosston.

Coleman argued the city’s ordinance states the rates should be sufficient to pay the bonds, interest and maintenance and operation of the system. It was pointed out the original ordinance was passed in 1983 and has been amended several times over the years, with the changes publicized. Coleman continued asking if it was necessary to raise the rates this much to cover the requirements for the system. Again, he was told these rates were suggested by the USDA and approved by the council.

Jackson also pointed out the requirements for each house having its own water meter isn’t a city ordinance, but comes from the Arkansas State Plumbing Code. Section 603.2.3 of the code states, “Except as approved by the State Administrative Authority, in no case shall a residential building be allowed to connect to the same water, building drain or building sewer service of another private residential building. Each building structure shall have separate water and/or water line service from the point of the utility source and in no case be interconnected with the plumbing system of another privately owned property.”

The Arkansas Department of Health (ADH), Jackson told the audience, is requiring the city to paint one of its water tanks. This will cost around $160,000 and the payments will be roughly $1,100 per month. The 26 households without meters, he continued, are costing the city $600.13 per month and this would be more than half the loan payment for the paint job loan.

Coleman said this ordinance hasn’t been being enforced since its inception and said it was unfair to enforce it at this time. He said elderly people have contacted him about it and are concerned as the state has cut out paying its part of Medicare Part B. He suggested the council grandfather those households currently on another meter in.

Jackson agreed the ordinance hasn’t been enforced and added the city wouldn’t be going back to the time the homes were first connected to collect, but would start when new meters are set and connected. He added the cost of water meters in 1983 when the ordinance was passed was $35 each and now are $65 each, and this doesn’t include the other costs involved for the city.

Coleman told Jackson enforcing the ordinance now could be “political suicide” even though it may be the right thing to do legally. Jackson repeatedly said this regulation comes from the ADH.

Coleman accused the city of gouging the elderly and again asked for the meter situation to be grandfathered in. The audience was told the matter would be discussed with City Attorney Glenn Vasser and be addressed again.

The audience left after hearing the issue would be addressed again, with the council discussing the situation. Councilman Judy O’Keefe said she understands their concerns, but said if the city doesn’t do something the FHA could get involved. Councilman Lisa Ward said the city needs to be fair and, if it’s legal, grandfather those households in. Jackson said the city, and council, would be in violation if it allows more than one household per meter. Rosston Water Superintendent Vince Biddle told the panel there are people who slip mobile homes onto their property and hook them into their water system without notifying the city. He said the city knows of 26 households hooked onto more than one meter out of 302 customers. “When this started doesn’t matter. The city is in violation,” he said. Biddle added it wouldn’t be fair to allow these 26 to not have meters, yet require all new customers on the system to abide by the regulations. He reminded the council the separation of meters is for both safety and sanitation reasons.

In other business, Jackson said Rosston will be getting a Dollar General store and the company wants the city to pass an ordinance. However, the reason for the ordinance wasn’t clear, he said, as the store won’t be inside the city limits. This, too, he said, will be addressed with Vasser.

American Tower, the company providing the cell tower in Rosston, has asked to convert its deal with the city from a ground lease to an easement for 10 years, and would increase its payment to the city from $500 to $846 per month. Vasser, he added, is checking on this to determine the difference between a ground lease and easement. As the company is asking this to be approved by Feb. 28, Jackson said a special meeting may have to be called.

It was agreed to try and get Vasser at the next meeting to address these issues.

 

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