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Rosston water issue tabled

By Staff, 03/13/18 10:19 AM

ROSSTON CITY HALL 003

ROSSTON – Almost two hours of discussion concerning water rates and water meters, led to the issue being tabled for another month at the March meeting of the Rosston City Council Monday night.

Rosston City Attorney Glenn Vasser was on hand to answer questions, but had few directed his way, as area resident Herbert Coleman, Justice of the Peace District 6, did most of the talking for those present, returning to his argument from the February meeting of grandfathering in those who have more than one household per meter.

Vasser said this is as much a health issue as it is a legal one, because where there is more than one household per meter is in violation of Arkansas Health Department (ADH) regulations as well as the Arkansas plumbing code, both of which state one meter per household. He told those gathered in the packed city hall, the city needs to enforce these regulations and should have been enforcing them all along.

Vasser added this is as much a sanitation issue as it is an economic one for the city.

Rosston Mayor Lewis Jackson again told those gathered the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) did a rate survey which found the city didn’t have enough money in its account to do what was needed to properly maintain and operate the water system, and suggested a rate hike. Jackson continued, reminding the audience, the city is losing $600 per month from those 26 who are on double hookup in meter fees. He reminded them the ADH is requiring the city to paint one of its tanks, which will cost $160,000, adding the city is trying to borrow the money to get this work done.

Coleman suggested the city pick up the tab for putting the meters in, claiming there were those on double hookup who can’t afford to have this work done.

Jackson said the city shouldn’t have to pay either, pointing out the meter costs have risen from $250 to $435 and the city does install the meters at no cost.

It was pointed out Coleman’s daughter is also hooked up to his meter. He was asked if he knew the rules and regulations and said as a contractor he knew the rules, but didn’t contact the city when her house was being built.

There are those, Jackson said, who move mobile homes onto land and hook into other people’s water lines. Others, he added, come to the city asking what they need to do to hook into the city’s system. He said they are told a perk test is required, and if they don’t have 10 acres of land, a septic system will have to be installed. He added, these customers are given a year to put in a septic system.

Putting in the meters, Coleman said, will hurt about 80 percent of the people (who are double hooked up) and suggested they be grandfathered in and not required to pay. He said the city could grandfather them in the same way it hasn’t enforced the regulation.

Vince Biddle, Rosston water superintendent, said everyone knows now and has been informed. This situation, he added, needs to be settled and everyone pay their fair share.

On the topic of grandfathering, Vasser said it only applies when a law is changed and those who were under it before the change aren’t required to make any changes. Grandfathering doesn’t work in this instance. He suggested working out a payment agreement on the meters.

It was pointed out those who are on double hookups could also be required to install a septic system if they don’t already have one. Coleman argued this would be another expense for them.

Jackson said if the council was willing, the city could drop the price of the meters to $250, adding the city would be losing money by doing this, and is losing money by not being paid meter fees.

Coleman suggested the issue be tabled until the council digs deeper into it and makes sure everyone is covered.

Discussion from then on went in circles with both sides stating their cases, basically the same ways. It diverged on the topic of water rates when the question was raised where the “extra” money from the rate hike would be going. Jackson said all funds go in the department’s bank account. The question was raised what would be done with the money when it reached $200,000, showing a lack of understanding of how water departments and city government works.

The residents were told, repeatedly, maintaining the water department is an ongoing process, one that doesn’t stop. They were told of a lightning strike that took out a pump, requiring the pump to be replaced at a cost of more than $5,000. They were also told the tank in question for repair wouldn’t just be getting a new paint job, but would be having other work done as well, including a faucet at the bottom for testing purposes, a larger hole in the top, a new ladder and the installation of a fence around it.

They were also told some of the money would be placed in a contingency fund for emergencies. Jackson said the city was raising rates at 5 percent a year until the Laneburg project began, at which time the rate hikes stopped. “We’re just looking out for the city,” he said.

Coleman suggested the city pay 100 percent of the meter installations for those double hooked and recover the lost revenue over time. He added the city stands to lose more money because this issue could result in people getting off city water and drilling wells.

On the topic of the rate survey, Vasser said these are generally studies based on a formula from a cost standpoint, not one of making a profit, and contingency funds are built in. These surveys, he added, aren’t based on other communities of similar size, but are community specific for the one in question.

Coleman said people are wanting to donate money to fund an independent audit, saying this is something the city doesn’t want.

Jackson welcomed Coleman and anyone interested to come and check the city’s books, telling everyone the city is currently being audited, and is audited annually. “We’ve got nothing to hide.”

In the end, the council chose to table the issue until the full body was present, as one member was missing from the meeting. It is to be addressed again at the April meeting.