Residents of Excelsior Springs presented their concerns over the City’s proposed water rate increase to the Excelsior Springs City Council in their Monday evening meeting.
Resident James Rice said he addressed the Council in 2010 in regard to a proposed 132% water rate increase and a 147% sewer rate increase to take place from 2010-15. He said his water bill increased each year insignificantly until last year’s 38% increase.
“I don’t think the people in this community can take much more,” he said. “The weight is getting to be too much.”
He said Excelsior contains many elderly residents and about 56% of residential households rent their home. The City needs to look at other means to pay for the needed upgrades and repairs.
If the City received inaccurate data in 2010, he said, this mistake should not be passed onto the residents. The City used the data to sell “a bill of goods to the people of this community who are the City of Excelsior Springs,” he said.
As a business owner, Rice said, he understands the main objective concerns growth.
“What has the city done in the past decade or two for private growth in this community,” he asked. “ … What have we done to promote private growth to where we can spread out more of this cost among more people, more households?”
Resident Michelle McDade said her family moved to the community several years ago. She said they have lived in North Carolina, Nebraska and Kansas and views the water bills as the highest they’ve ever paid. She said other people in surrounding communities expressed their astonishment over the high bills.
Her family of five uses less than 3,000 gallons of water per person per month and the family pays over $200 per month, she said. This comes to approximately 30% of her mortgage payment. At this rate, she said they could live in Kearney and pay higher taxes and still come out ahead.
Neighbors have told her they will move due to the bills, she said.
“It’s getting to be too much for a typical family to afford these bills,” she said.
Excelsior does not have the Kearney level income, she said, the community cannot afford this. At this rate, McDade said this increase will hurt the community instead of helping it.
Resident Jerry Smith said as a retired member of the community, he cannot afford this rate increase. He moved to his home six years ago and the water rates go higher each year. He said he doesn’t understand how the water department can do this without reading the meters each month. He said the water department told him they read it automatically, but have billed him the exact same three months in a row.
“Do they read the meters,” he asked. “Probably not. Do they estimate them? Probably.”
He said he believes the City contains too many supervisors and not enough employees to perform the work. He said he will be moving soon due to the rates and he believes he probably won’t be the only one to do so.
In an attempt to explain the situation more fully to Excelsior Springs residents, City Manager Molly McGovern attempted to answer some of the questions asked by Standard readers via social media.
When asked if Excelsior residents could see an increase in traffic stops to help fund City projects, McGovern said no relationship exists public safety and water rates. She said the City would also not “complicate the accounting process by redirecting funds improperly.”
She said city staff would like the situation to remain as honest about where they apply funds and ensure those who benefit from a particular service to be the ones who pay for it.
To answer a question posed regarding the need for upgrades to the newly constructed sewer plant, McGovern said the City does not intend the proposed increase to make upgrades to the plant. She said to the best of her knowledge, City staff have never indicated this to be the case.
“The rate increase is to correct the water rate, so the rate pays for the cost of the service, it is currently generating less revenue than the cost of the service,” she said.
One Facebook user asked if a way existed to divert funds from other City projects to reduce the rate increase. Examples cited included the golf course, dog park and replacing the Excelsior Springs Museum & Archives lighting.
McGovern said the City cannot divert spending from other parts of town to this particular issue.
“The projects listed had funding sources that could only be spent on the named project,” she said. “Lighting the museum was not a city project, so I don’t know how it was funded – but (I) assume it was accomplished with volunteers and fundraising.”
She said the Hall of Waters currently runs without a source of heat due to the break-down of the existing boiler. She said unless they replace the boiler, they will have to vacate the building before winter.
However, she said, utility funds cannot be legally used for Hall of Waters improvements.
“If improvements must be made to the Hall of Waters to remain in the building, other projects in the Capital Improvement Fund will be postponed to fund the most critical, as that is the only available source of funds for the Hall of Waters” she said.
In response to a resident’s request the City change existing budgets to increase the budget for the water department, McGovern said funds dedicated to a specific department cannot legally be diverted to other departments.
Questions arose regarding how other communities pay for needed upgrades.
McGovern said other cities use their water and sewer rates to make needed improvements. Some cities can receive grants and low-interest loans from the Community Development Block Grant, Department of Natural Resources and the United States Department of Agriculture.
Excelsior recently became eligible for more grants due to a new income survey which identified a portion of residents with low to moderate income levels.
“We currently are eligible for CDBG grants, but were not eligible at the time improvements were made ten years ago,” she said.
When asked where the funds from the last increase went and who manages the funds, McGovern said the last increase helped correct the negative fund balance for the sewer department.
“The last increase was to correct the negative fund balance in sewer because rates were not adequate to cover expenses,” she said. “This year’s increase was to correct the falling balance in water because the rates were not adequate to cover expenses.”
She said the rate funds three activities – operating costs, debt on capital improvements and rehabilitation of existing infrastructure. Keeping rates low requires the City to defer maintenance, which does not save money, she said. She said deferring maintenance only postpones the improvement to a later date at an inflated price.
In response to a resident’s concerns about trash also increasing, McGovern said the trash department needs the increase as well.
“Trash has also been spending down cash balances rather than to raise rates to cover the cost of the service,” she said.
John McClelland, city attorney, presented an ordinance to the Council concerning the size and composition of the Excelsior Springs Hospital Board of Trustees. The ordinance raises the number of board members from seven to nine. McClelland said for boards composed of five or
fewer members, state law required a certain number of members be from Excelsior Springs. However, for larger boards, he said the members must only be from the state of Missouri. This should help the City find members with the skills that will assist ESH in the future.
McGovern also brought a proposed ESH board appointment in front of the board. The resolution would appoint Steve Marriott to the board until Sept. 30, 2023. Marriott works as the Director of Administrative Services for the City.
Public Works Director Chad Birdsong brought an ordinance before the council concerning the disposal of the brush and logs at the yard waste drop-off site.
“For the past nine years, we typically grind the material every three years and due to a large demand for the mulch, the demand has kept the cost of grinding to less than a couple of thousand dollars every three years,” he said. “As more and more cities create yard waste sites, the mulch market has been saturated with material and it is no longer very cheap to grind the material.”
The three bids received by Public Works included Pursell Holdings LLC. estimating 50 hours at $620.00 per hour plus $1,000.00 to mobilize to equal $32,000.00. Birdsong said this bid did not include the haul off of the mulch; Eharass estimated 40 hours at $550.00 per hour to equal $22,000.00. This bid also does not include the haul off of mulch, he said; and Missouri Organic estimated 40 to 45 hours at $550.00 per hour to equal $22,000.00 - $24,750.00. Birdsong said this bid included the mulch haul off.
Birdsong said he recommended awarding the bid to Missouri Organic since they will haul off all the excess mulch. He said they did offer to let the city keep some mulch to aid in the landscaping needs for the city. The funds for this ordinance will come from the Refuse budget.
The City Council approved all ordinances.
The Council also approved an ordinance in regard to World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
“Whereas: Older adults deserve to be treated with respect and dignity to enable them to serve as leaders, mentors, volunteers and vital participating members of our communities; Therefore; I, Bradley T. Eales, Mayor of the City of Excelsior Springs do hereby proclaim June 15, 2019, as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day in Excelsior Springs, Missouri and encourage all of our communities to recognize and celebrate older adults and their ongoing contributions to the success and vitality of our country,” the ordinance said in part.
The Excelsior Springs City Council will hold its next scheduled meeting at 6 p.m., June 17 at the Hall of Waters.