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Residents consider utility rate and fee increases

Monday, August 18, 2014 | 11:19 p.m. CDT; updated 11:16 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, August 19, 2014

COLUMBIA — A bevy of fee increases and higher utility rates that are part of the proposed fiscal 2015 city budget faced their first round of public scrutiny at the Columbia City Council on Monday night.

The budget calls for total spending of about $430 million and anticipates about $400 million in total revenue. Enterprise funds would be tapped to make up the $30 million gap, City Manager Mike Matthes said.

Budget meeting and hearing scheduled

Work session, 8 a.m. Saturday

Public hearing, 7 p.m. Sept. 2

Public hearing, 7 p.m. Sept. 15



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The budget calls for numerous fee increases that would take effect on Oct. 1, the beginning of the new fiscal year, and are intended to help the city recoup the cost of providing various services and utilities.

Several residents were upset with proposed electric utility rate increases, which would increase the base rates for residential customers.

Resident Alice Turner said it isn't fair that a smaller home may be paying the same amount as a larger house to stay warm.

"I think the business community can afford to pay a higher rate," she said. "I find it really disturbing that this would be the route we would go."

Many residents also were opposed to Matthes' proposal that the city stop issuing black trash bag vouchers to save the city about $380,000.

"The bags provided are high quality and give a high rate of satisfaction in their use," resident Chuck Headley said. "I doubt any money would be saved by purchasing them myself."

Sixth Ward Councilwoman Barbara Hoppe said she had heard many constituents voice similar concerns about getting rid of the black trash bag vouchers.

"I have a lot of concerns about people buying much cheaper bags (than the city provides) and having garbage broken into and torn and strewn around the community."

The council is preparing to embark on a series of work sessions to further consider the proposed fiscal 2015 budget. The first of those hearings is Saturday in conference room 1A/1B at the Daniel Boone City Building. The 580-page budget proposal can be viewed on the city's website.

The proposed budget includes increases in:

Electric rates

An increase in monthly electric bills would boost total revenue for the electric utility by 2 percent. Although the average increase for residential customers will be 1.4 percent, according to a report to the council from Matthes, the individual impact will vary with the amount of power used.

The electric rate increases are "really to catch-up from not having (an increase) at all last year," Matthes said.

The change would boost revenue by about $2.4 million; $950,000 would come from residential customers and $1.3 million from commercial and industrial customers, according to the bill. Matthes said the increase is needed to recoup the cost of operating and maintaining the utility.

Sanitary sewer rates

Monthly sewer bills would increase by 6 percent, or about $3 per month for residential customers. That increase is the result of a $32.3 million sewer bond issue that voters approved in November 2013.

The bill would also increase fees for connecting to city sewers. Altogether, the changes would boost city revenue by an estimated $1.49 million in fiscal 2015.

Solid waste rates and service changes

The city may charge higher prices for picking up major appliances and for collecting commercial refuse. It may also boost landfill tonnage fees. Those changes would increase city revenue by an estimated $336,000.

Parking

The cost of parking downtown may rise for some residents. The proposed bills would increase the cost of parking to $65 per month for parking permits or parking in temporary lots, while the cost of reserved spaces for banks and savings and loans institutions, for loading zones and for reserved police parking will increase to $950 per year, up from the current $520.

City staff is also proposing that hours of enforcement for on-street parking downtown would shift to 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. instead of the current 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. City staff said the changes would be more in line with the times consumers use the parking spaces.

The council is also considering higher fines for parking violations. Parking tickets in both on-street, metered spots and in parking garages would cost $15 if paid within 15 days and $30 thereafter.

The changes would boost city revenue by a total of about $328,000. Revenue from the fine increases would be used to hire one new firefighter and an investigator and two new officers for the Police Department. Revenue from the higher parking fees would be used to install electric "arms" at city parking garages at a cost of $200,000 to $250,000.

Water service line rates

The city is considering increasing various charges associated with establishing water service. “Service equity charges,” which city staff calls a “buy-in” fee to reflect the value of the existing water system, would rise based on the size of the customer’s water line. The fee for those on five-eighths or three-quarter-inch lines, for example, would rise from $500 to $576, while the fee for those on a 6-inch line would rise from $6,283 to $20,279.

The proposed budget also calls for a boost in fees for tapping into the water system and for water meters and housing. The changes would generate an additional $244,000 per year, according to the bill.

Parks and Recreation fees 

The proposed budget includes increased charges for participating in some sports and recreation programs and for renting park shelters or buildings. Proposed small-fee increases include adult kickball and softball fees, golf passes, golf cart rentals and Activity and Recreation Center admission fees.

The estimated increase in revenue for the city's Recreation Services Fund would be $40,000, according to the bill. A portion of that money would go toward improving park and recreation facilities.

Community Development Department processing fees 

The council is considering increased processing fees for the planning and zoning division of the Community Development Department to better reflect the actual cost to the city. Fees for cellular tower reviews, administrative plats and hearing continuances may be introduced. The estimated increase in revenue from the change would be about $16,000, according to the bill.

Rental fees

Costs associated with rental inspections may rise to help the city cover a $154,000 deficit it incurs by providing the services. A report to the City Council said that of the 81 public comments city staff received about the plan, nearly all were opposed to it.

Water backflow prevention charges

The proposed fiscal year 2015 budget would double the charges for backflow prevention devices to cover the cost of hiring of a worker to ensure the devices are properly installed.

Backflow devices are installed on water lines of irrigation and industrial systems, commercial kitchens and laboratories to prevent contaminants from entering the water.

Those inside city limits could expect an increase from $1 to $2 per month per backflow device. Those outside the city limits could see an increase from $1.33 to $2.66 per month per device. Those within the boundaries of dissolved Public Water Supply Districts No. 1 and No. 2 could see an increase from $1.16 to $2.31.

The estimated increase in revenue from the change would be $74,000, according to the bill.

Sign and right-of-way permit fees

Sign permits may cost more next fiscal year, as will the cost of construction projects within city rights of way.

The council is considering raising sign permit fees from $45 to $75 for the first 50 square feet and from 15 cents to 25 cents for each additional square foot.

It is also considering raising right-of-way permit fees to $50 from the current $10. The permits are required for construction within the city's right-of-way, such as the construction of sidewalks or street repair.

The changes would boost city revenue by about $50,000, according to the bill.

Supervising editor is Scott Swafford.


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