The Belmond City Council reviewed a water and sewer rate survey Monday night that suggests the city should raise water rates by 16% per year for each of the next five years, and should raise sewer rates 5% per year for two years.
The rate study was completed by the engineering firm of Snyder Associates at the request of city leaders who are concerned about the loss of revenue in the water and sewer accounts due to the closure of Belmond’s Eaton factory.
“The city is very concerned about the Eaton situation,” said City Manager Darrell Steven Carlyle. “The sewer account is in better shape than the water account. That’s why the study recommends smaller increases for sewer.
“But the fact of the matter is, Belmond’s water plant is the Taj Mahal of water plants. It is much larger than water plants in other towns our size, and much bigger than we need. It’s bad because it costs a lot. But on the other hand, we are ready for commercial expansion. If an industry wanted to come to Belmond, we would have all the water they need,” Carlyle said.
The rate study noted that the population of Belmond has decreased 12% over the past 20 years. The count was 2,560 residents in 2000, fell to 2,376 in 2010, and is estimated at 2,263 today. Fewer residents mean less water is used.
The study also compared Belmond to six other Iowa towns with populations from 2,100 to 2,500. The lowest small-user water cost was $20.50, and the highest was $37.50 -- in Belmond.
“I understand the need to make our payments,” said Council Member Jenna German. “But I don’t want high water rates to keep people from moving here.”
“You aren’t comparing apple to apples when looking at different towns,” said Carlyle. “Belmond’s water plant is a lot bigger, and we actually treat our water.”
“Belmond’s water is softened. Not many towns do that,” Public Works Director Justin Fournier told the newspaper. “For example, Clarion only chlorinates the water, and people over there have to pay for a water softener in their home.”
The rate study shows that something must be done or the city won’t be able to make its debt payments in the coming years. Two suggestions were made:
A. Raising water rates 16% each of the next five years; and raising sewer rates 5% for two years.
B. Rasing water rates 21% later this year, 26% in 2023, and 30% in 2025; and raising sewer rates 10% later this year only.
Although no decision has yet been made, both the engineering firm that prepared the study and Carlyle suggested the council think about Plan A, and instituting it on July 1 of this year.
“I don’t want to raise prices in big chunks,” said Carlyle. “People won’t stand for that. It’s better to raise rates a smaller amount each year.”
Here is how monthly rates might look for a 3,000 gallon user under Plan A. (See the chart in this week's Belmond Independent.)