Mon, Jan. 20

Cottonwood to raise wastewater fees

“We do not have the reserves … to continue to operate.”
-- Ron Corbin, City Manager

“We do not have the reserves … to continue to operate.” -- Ron Corbin, City Manager

COTTONWOOD – While some members of Cottonwood City Council believe they’ve inherited a $14 million wastewater problem, most could agree that a gradual increase in wastewater rates is necessary to meet long-term capital needs.

Cottonwood City Manager Ron Corbin said that if the city chose to do nothing, they would have to borrow from the general fund to operate the system in two years.

“We do not have the reserves … to continue to operate,” he said at Tuesday’s regular meeting.

Council approved a Notice of Intent Tuesday to raise wastewater fees over a five-year period. Council Member Jackie Nairn was the only dissenting vote.

“I’ve had a lot of citizens reach out to me on this issue,” she said. “Not a single one of them is in favor of a rate increase.”

Right now, the rate for wastewater is $32 a month.  In the five-year plan, the monthly rate for 2018 and 2019 would remain the same. Then it would increase by about $5 by 2020. By 2024, the monthly rate would be $58.85. The rate increases are slated to take effect July 1.

“Citizens just can’t afford $58 at the end of five year,” Nairn said. She also asked if there was a way the city could explore looking into grants to subsidize wastewater needs.

Deputy City Manager Rudy Rodriguez said grants are traditionally allocated toward construction projects, not for operation.

City Manager Ron Corbin said staff will look into grants opportunities.

“We will be looking into grants for expansion opportunities, for economic development … we are seriously looking for those grant opportunities when they arise.”

Cottonwood Mayor Tim Elinski leaned more toward a four-year or three-year options. Both aren’t as gradual as the five-year option and are $3 more expensive starting in 2020 than the five-year option.

“I really don’t want to defer maintenance or nickel and dime a system that is 32-plus years old. I think the results will backfire on us. I don’t think we can continue to duct tape a system we rely on so heavily day in and day out.”

Council Member Michael Mathews said he was disappointed in what the current council inherited.

“A large part of this is a result of this $14 million wastewater treatment plant that somebody decided we needed to do,” he said.

Mathews called it a “vanity project.”

“It should have never gone to $14 million, it completely exhausted all those reserves,” he said. “We got sold a bill of goods on this thing.”

But Mathews also said he understood why it was necessary to raise rates.

“I think our citizens need to know what we’re dealing with and why we’re raising their (rates),” he said.

Council Member Doug Hulse said criticizing the Riverfront Water Reclamation Facility is “beating a dead horse.”

“We know it was a mistake,” he said. “People who made the mistakes are no longer with the city. We need to move forward.”

Also at the meeting, council approved water rate increases by about $1.50 over the next five years.

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