City Council Talks Sewer Tax Increase

Diane Ottosson is sworn in on Tuesday to the Oskaloosa City Council by Mayor Dave Krutzfeldt

Diane Ottosson is sworn in on Tuesday to the Oskaloosa City Council by Mayor Dave Krutzfeldt

by Charlie Comfort

Oskaloosa, Iowa- An ordinance implementing a 20 percent increase in the city’s sanitary sewer tax unanimously cleared its first reading at Monday’s city council meeting. The ordinance must be approved on two additional readings before it takes effect. Under the proposal voted on by the city council, sanitary sewer rates will increase by 20 percent, effective April 1, 2018. The average increase per month for residential sewer customers will be $8.30.

The increase in sanitary sewer rates is being prompted by severely aging sewer infrastructure, as well as new mandates imposed from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the Environmental Protection Agency, as a result of the Clean Water Act. Mayor Dave Krutzfeldt said that the increase in rates is not something that is popular among the city council. He also lamented that for Councilmember Diane Ottosson, her first meeting was resulting in a vote to increase sewer taxes by 20 percent.

“We’ve talked about this, and I don’t think anybody is happy and I’m feeling especially sorry for Diane, because not every new councilmember gets to walk in and do their first meeting voting on a 20 percent increase,” Krutzfeldt said. He added that the city has very limited options in moving forward with how to deal with the new mandates.

“There’s not a lot of choices involved,” Krutzfeldt said.

Councilmember Doug Yates noted that the proposed increase is going to be used to help pay for a new plant that must be built to comply with new mandates.

“We’re trying to pass this so we can pay for the sewer plant that we have to build within the next ten years,” Yates said. “We don’t have any reasonable or viable options,” he added later in the meeting.

City Manager Michael Schrock said that the reason for the increase in taxes is not something that unique to just Oskaloosa. He noted that the City of Ottumwa has also been facing challenges with the new mandates, challenges that potentially supersede those of Oskaloosa.

Schrock said that the current existing sanitary sewer plants do not meet new existing mandates from the DNR. Those mandates are in place to curb nitrogen and phosphorus deposits into the Mississippi River and the Gulf of Mexico. Schrock noted that nitrogen and phosphorus deposits into the Gulf of Mexico have formed a dead zone that is killing off vegetation and organisms. The new standards that are now in place aim to curb that. Prior to the new standards being implemented and enforced, the City of Oskaloosa was operating under expired permits for our sanitary sewer plants, which was not uncommon in the state. That was changed recently.

“We had ours renewed, and there are new treatment standards, even with that. So we have the longer term nutrient removal, we have the more immediate issues with treatment standards, which would include disinfection, but we worked with the DNR to push those off until we build a new plant,” Schrock said.

“We’ve worked with the DNR, I believe, as much as we can to try to push this off. This isn’t something we want to do,” he added.

According to a rate schedule distributed to city council members, residents in Oskaloosa can see an average monthly increase of $8.30 in the sanitary sewer bill. The current rate schedule assumes the city takes out a 20-year loan from the state revolving fund to build the new sanitary sewer plant.

“This plan, assuming all goes well, gets the rates raised to a plateau, essentially, that will fund all those things that we need to do to maintain this system, and then just tweak it and adjust as operation expenses or inflation occur,” Schrock said of the rate.

Future increases in the rate schedule show limited increases in the sanitary sewer rate in coming years. In response to a question from council member Steve Burnett, Schrock said the project numbers in the future are fairly safe to predict.

“I think those are reasonable to try to project for now,” Schrock said of the future numbers.

“The pain is now. It shouldn’t be near as painful in the next couple of years,” Council member Burnett added to what Schrock said.

In other action, an every other year tradition occurred at Tuesday’s meeting: the oath of office. Mayor Dave Krutzfeldt was administered the oath of office by City Clerk Amy Miller to start his fifth two-year term in office. Krutzfeldt was re-elected in November over teacher Jeff Lorentzen.

Krutzfelt also administered the oath of office to newly elected first-ward councilor Diane Ottosson and re-elected third ward council Doug Yates, and at-large councilors Scottie Moore and Tom Walling. Ottosson and Yates ran unopposed in the November elections, while Moore and Walling defeated challengers Charlie Comfort and Wyatt Russell in the November elections. Yates, Moore, and Walling are all starting their third terms in office.

In other action at Tuesday’s meeting, the council:

Approved a resolution accepting completion of the south 7th street concrete pavement rehabilitation project by DC Concrete & Construction LLC.

Approved the appointment of a Mayor Pro Tem and the city council subcommittees. Councilmember Doug Yates will again serve as Mayor Pro Tem, and will also serve on the Finance and Planning subcommittees. Councilmember Tom Jimenez will chair the Finance subcommittee and also serve on the public projects subcommittee. Councilmember Joe Caligiuri will chair the public safety subcommittee, and also serve on the finance subcommittee. Councilmember Scottie Moore will serve on the public safety and planning subcommittees. Councilmember Diane Ottosson will serve on the public safety subcommittee. Councilmember Steve Burnett will chair the planning subcommittee and serve on the public projects subcommittee.

The next regular meeting of the Oskaloosa City Council will be held on Tuesday, January 16 at 6 pm in the city council chambers. The meeting is being held on Tuesday due to the Martin Luther King Jr holiday on Monday, January 15.

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