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Council approves second reading of sewer rate changes

By Kelly Terpstra,

A new city ordinance could mean residents of Charles City will be watching more closely how much water they use.

The City Council approved a second reading of an ordinance that would increase customers’ sewer bills in Charles City by a flat rate of 20 percent on Monday.

The money will help pay for the $20.5 million water resource recovery facility (WRRF) that has a planned completion date of 2022. The expansion and reconstruction of the proposed wastewater treatment plant will require a loan of $19 million, which the higher rates will pay off, according to City Administrator Steve Diers.

“With these new figures factored in, as you can see, the project then cash flows. We should be in good shape moving forward,” said Diers.

Diers said Iowa Department of Natural Resources rules regarding wastewater nutrient reduction need to be met, and the city’s aging wastewater plant can’t handle it.

“It’s kept in fantastic condition,” he said about the plant. “You’d never know it was 52 years old. But the mechanics of it — none of it works toward any type of nutrient reduction.”

The 20 percent increase in the minimum monthly charge would affect the base and variable sewer rates and would take effect on March 1 upon final approval by the council. The new rate charge would show up on customers’ April bills.

Commercial rates will also increase if the ordinance is passed.

A customer who uses 6,000 gallons of water a month, for example, would see their current bill of $38.62 increase to $46.37.

The current base rate or monthly access fee for sewer use in Charles City is $9.52. With the 20 percent increase that would rise to $11.43. The current variable rate is $4.85 per 1,000 gallons of use a month, which will increase to $5.82 per 1,000.

Diers said this would be a one-time increase in addition to the annual 3.5 percent rate increase that has taken place since 2008.

Council member DeLaine Freeseman said, “In the long run, yeah, we’re all going to start paying more now up front. But it may help save on the borrowings, at least to some extent — which saves on interest costs and everything else on down the line.”

Also at the meeting Monday, the council reviewed bids that had been opened Jan. 31 for the 2019 Wayfinding Signage Project.

The Corbin Group helped develop a plan that would place gateway/welcome signs, vehicular guide signs, parking lot identification signs and information kiosks around Charles City. City Engineer John Fallis’ probable cost estimate for the project was $230,000.

The low bid came from Signs and More, located in Independence. That bid was for $157,427.99 — more than $83,000 lower than second-lowest bid of $240,688 by Nagle Signs of Waterloo.

There were six bids that were received, with ASI Signage Innovation of Grinnell being high bid at $278,502.

Fallis said Nagle Signs had some concerns about Signs and More’s low bid. Fallis said he sent the bids to the Corbin Group for review on Monday, but was unable to discuss the matter with them. Fallis was hoping to talk with them soon about the bids.

“They were standing by their bid,” said Fallis about the low bid.

Fallis said the bids are good for 30 days. Before the contract is approved, the bidder has to present the City Council with a performance and maintenance bond, which protects the city should completion of the project stall or somehow not be completed.

“When you see a number come in that much lower than the rest of them, that makes you a little leery,” said Diers. “If they don’t get it done to the level that we desire and request, that performance bond will be there to fall back on.”

The council eventually decided to take no action and have the Corbin Group review the low bid and to address the Wayfinding Project at a future meeting.

Also at the meeting:

• Two 20-mile-an-hour speed limit signs will be posted on Main Street after the council approved a resolution. The first sign will be installed somewhere in the 100 block of Main Street for drivers headed northeast. The other sign will be placed near Simply Essentials past the intersection of North Main and North Grand Avenue for drivers headed southwest.

• The council approved a first reading of an ordinance vacating a portion of 6th Avenue and alleyways at 500 North Grand and also agreed to give the green light to sell the land to the school district.

• The city approved the third and final reading to vacate the South Jackson right-of-way between Gilbert Street and Court Street for construction of the new county law enforcement center. Prior to that, the council approved to rezone properties on the west side of South Jackson Street to service business district or B-3 to make room for the new LEC.

• It was agreed that GHD Services Inc. would conduct its annual monitoring and maintenance of the test wells at the groundwater monitoring system at the Shaw Avenue dump site. The city’s share is 50 percent and totals $13,800 and comes from the general fund. Zoetis picks up the remaining cost.