City passes water hike to residents
Water will be more expensive after the first of the year after action taken by the Baldwin City Council at its Monday meeting.
Lawrence, which supplies Baldwin City’s water, raised its price 33 cents per 100 cubic feet. After lengthy discussion, the council voted 3-1 to pass that jump to ratepayers. Council Member Ted Brecheisen Jr. voted against it and Council Member Tony Brown wasn’t at the meeting. The item had been tabled at the previous meeting.
“We rehashed this again on my request,” said Brecheisen, a member of the utility committee that makes recommendations to the council. “Looking over this again I saw that we’d put $50,000 into the reserve fund that I didn’t know about. If we’re able to maintain or put more in the reserve fund, why increase rates more at this time? It will cost another $2 a month for me and my wife, but others will be paying more. I voted not to raise it.”
Council Member Doyle Jardon, another member of the utility committee, voted to make the recommendation to the council.
“We did have quite the discussion on this issue,” said Jardon. “I hate to come to you guys and me and Ted not being on the same page. We face huge expenses when something goes wrong in the Baker Wetlands.
“Since this is just a pass-through from Lawrence, I feel better about passing it along to the ratepayers,” he said. “If we didn’t do this, it would make a change in the general fund. Not a big one. We’re not adding to the increase, we’re just passing it through.”
In past years, the council has tacked on increases to the annual jump Lawrence makes. The city is faced with a $1 million-plus project to take the water pipe out of the wetlands because it often leaks and causes expensive repairs.
Utility Director Bill Winegar told the council that he’s been watching to see what Lawrence will do about the wetlands situation.
“We’ve had a lot of plans to do something with the Baker Wetlands,” said Winegar. “Lawrence is talking about making some changes and we’ve been waiting to see what they’re going to do. We’ll be playing catch up sometime. I can’t tell you when these projects are going to start. We’ve kind of drug our feet with the bypass.”
Brecheisen again voiced his concerns, asking to delay the increase.
“Our biggest customers, Baker (University) and the school district, are facing budget cuts,” said Brecheisen. “They’re going to be paying a lot with this. I’d like to wait until spring and see how this has developed out. We could pass it then.”
Council President Amy Cleavinger, who was presiding over the meeting in the absence of Mayor Gary Walbridge, said waiting doesn’t make sense.
“Does it bother you that if we don’t pass it along now, we’ll have to in the future and hit them with a really big increase when we can’t continue to absorb it?” said Cleavinger.
Council Member Ken Wagner agreed.
“I’ve said before we’re really at the mercy of those folks in Lawrence,” said Wagner. “If we hold off on this pass through, we’ll be doing it later.”
Wagner also said that when the time comes for the Baker Wetlands work to be done, he’ll favor paying as much as possible from the reserve account. Brecheisen again voiced opposition.
“There comes a time when the city has to quit saving money for the consumer and let them decide,” said Brecheisen. “There are people out there struggling to pay their utility bills and this isn’t going to help.”
Residents will now pay $7.53 per 100cf, up from $7.20 per 100cf. The change will take effect with the January billing if the ordinance passes on second reading at the next council meeting. The ordinance also eliminates the different rate charged to out of city limit customers. In the past, they have paid 175 percent of the city rate.
In other action, the city also approved on first reading designating the area around the Baldwin City Chamber of Commerce “Tom Swan Park.” The city bought the corner lot ahead of the Downtown Streetscape Project and the move is designed to keep the area a public place so nothing can be built there.
“I don’t see that happening; I see it staying the way it is,” said City Administrator Jeff Dingman. “It (ordinance designating the park) does help out the Lumberyard Arts Center Project. It assures them there won’t be a building built there.”