Councilwoman Sonya Morgan, Excelsior Springs
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Excelsior Springs Standard.
I paid my water bill yesterday, which is actually water, sewer and trash removal. The last bill I paid before the rate increase was $95.68 for a household with two people. After reading all of the disparaging remarks on various Facebook pages, I was sweating getting my bill after the increase. It was $105.12, an increase of $9.44. There were those double billings, letting me know that at least part of the month was billed at the old rate and part at the new. Next month will be the tell-all, right?
When I ran for a second term on the city council I stated that I would not be in favor of voting for an increase in utility rates in the near future. Here is why I did:
The rate increase that took effect in September, an estimated increase of $15 to $17 per household, created a new fund that has never been in place before. The increase creates a dedicated source of money for the maintenance of our water and sewer infrastructure. The fund is intended to keep our community from having to finance ongoing repairs out of the general fund. It will enable us to move from emergency maintenance to preventative maintenance, something very important as the cost of repairs continue to rise. Ideally, each department within the city should be self-supporting. Maintenance has been deferred for too long and we are paying the price of that now.
When discussing the rate increase, the council and staff were concerned with how it would impact our residents who struggle with everyday living expenses. We decided to set aside a portion of the rate increase to residents, like our seniors, who live on fixed incomes. The Good Samaritan Center was chosen to help administrate those city dollars, as they are more experienced in determining need than city staff is. To date, the Utility Assistance Program has provided $6,826.72 in assistance to 63 households and the GSC has been paid $682.68 for administering the program. There is $40,517.45 left in the account to help our less fortunate neighbors. There are also those on Facebook that have said we are terrible for asking people to go to the GSC for help with their water bills, however those who have been helped have expressed their thanks. I want to extend my thanks to all of you who understand that living in a community means we can provide a quality of life for all when we work together.
The city council and staff are also in the process of applying for the refinancing of our water and sewer bonds. If successful, the interest savings could amount to as much as $2.6 million. At the same time, we are having to respond to a state audit, costing taxpayers $75,000 to $125,000, which may negatively impact our refinance request. This audit is not budgeted and will be conducted on top of the annual, independent audit of the city available to the public online at cityofesmo.com.
The new criticism of the council on Facebook concerns the Memorial Airport pitted against the Golf Course. Actually, this is not new, it has been going on for several years now. The extra expense for an audit is the result of a handful of people who are jealous that the council made improvements to the golf course when the only amenity in the city that they care about is the airport. They initiated the circulation of the petition that enabled the audit. Five planes, four pilots.
Repairs to the clubhouse were much more than the obvious roof replacement. The family of raccoons falling through the ceiling into the restaurant helped underline the needs. When everything was considered it made more economic sense to build a new clubhouse than to repair one that no longer served the members’ needs. A plan to finance the project was developed by creating a subdivision on property the city-owned adjacent to the course. The sale of lots at $45,500 to $49,500 and a tax increment financing (TIF) on new sales created through the restaurant and pro shop will pay back the $1.5 million loan from Kearney Trust over the next 21 years.
You have probably read in detail about the expenses of this project from letters to the editor written by Mr. Andrew Kowalski. Yes, the city budgeted the first two payments of the loan out of the general fund while the lots were being readied for sale. No, our cost for the development of the lots is not $60,000 per lot, it is $36,000, meaning that we will recapture our investment. The restaurant and pro shop have generated $27,343 in TIF revenues. The restaurant opening did not take place until March 2019 and the year before it was closed during construction. The collections increased substantially after we opened the new clubhouse. The figures presented for golf course loss were $143,013 in 2018 and $348,527 in 2019, not the $325,459 and $485,683 respectively as reported in an Excelsior Springs Standard letter to the editor. Those figures included depreciation and depreciation is not cash.
I take it as a personal attack by asking the voters to “vote in new city council members.” I want to respond with a few words of my own to voters. A few people continue to exploit issues that emotionally impact our community. They seem to have all the solutions for solving the high cost of providing quality water and sewer treatment. One even works for the Environmental Protection Agency which mandated our new facility to be built. What role did he play in EPA deciding what was affordable for communities to make these expensive improvements? There has been discussion of the privatization of our system. Please Google Missouri American Water Company. We are so much better owning our own water system and we have 80 years already invested in it.
I recently attended a conference where a young Indian woman gave a presentation on how her small tribal community plans for its sustainability. She said that they recognize that planning is about “the seven generations.” The planners are always the middle generation, looking back three generations to respect the foundation that has been laid, but looking three generations ahead for what comes next. Where do we want Excelsior Springs to be three generations from now?
The council has been accused of prioritizing our wants over the community’s needs. A survey taken a few of years ago provided three clear priorities from residents: health, housing and economic development. Our golf course contributes to our economy as a tourism destination. Our real estate community has said that they have a shortage of housing. Our housing development will contribute to that need. Changes at our hospital and clinics will provide better access to care here in our hometown and our community center continues to grow its membership, providing additional health and quality of life. We are focused.
My seat is not up in the next election. For those who want to vote the council out, please explain how you are going to bad mouth the city staff and council and then work with us if elected? How do you get what you want supported while offering no solutions to the problems, only criticism based on inaccurate information? This approach is not leadership. This approach tears our community apart, it does not build it up.