In an effort to boost revenue, the city council approved resolutions during a special meeting Thursday night to raise both water and sewer rates.
Both measures were approved by a 4-1 vote, with councilman Carl McCutchen casting the lone dissenting vote. Another resolution to raise a capital improvement charge failed by a 5-0 vote.
The water rate is raised $3 per 1,000 gallons starting at 3,000 gallons. The sewer rate will raise $6.
Mayor Gerald Johnson said raising rates was needed for the city’s future and growth.
“Businesses are needed on Highway 70 to bring in sales tax,” he said.
Councilman Jeff Matthews said the rates were part of a plan of baby steps to bring up rates based on recommendations when plans were put in place for the new wastewater treatment plant.
“We were told two years ago our rates needed to be up to a certain amount,” he said. “We were told we needed to take baby steps, and we are at that point.”
McCutchen was in favor of cutting the budget in an effort to raise additional revenue. During budget discussions, McCutchen spoke in favor of cutting two police officers from the department for a savings of $100,000 a year. He said he had looked on the Internet and other resources, and found other communities had one officer per 1,000 people. Lone Grove has a population of 5,000 and seven officers in the department.
Two citizens spoke on behalf of the department, as did Councilman Chad Mansfield. Mansfield said in talking with citizens, some had been for water or sewer increases, but none had been for a reduction in police officers.
“One hundred thousand is not worth a line-of-duty death,” Mansfield said. “We are not a wealthy town. We have a lot of poverty and we have crime stricken areas. To me, $100,000 is not worth a line-of-duty death. I cannot support it.”
The council also had extensive discussions on what to do with increased revenue. City Manager Ian O’Neal said with the current situation, all the city can do is make a payment on the wastewater treatment plant. And for improving water quality, O’Neal said there is no quick fix, it will take time to accumulate funding.
Plant operations will cost the city $118,000 annually. Revenue gained from the increase can be used for softeners and extending the water lines to U.S. Highway 70. Revenue could also be used for matching funds on grants, O’Neal said.
“We ought to be cutting back and making it work,” McCutchen said. “We need to be working on the water.”
Johnson replied the city needed to be able to put itself in position to do something about the water.
The council made the decision to use additional revenue from the sewer rate increase for line expansion in the city.
In discussion related to the budget, the city put in $70,000 for water quality improvement. What form it takes will need to be decided. The city also put aside $15,000 to buy water from Ardmore, should it be needed.
One sticking point in budget discussions was the expenditure of $400 a month for 18 months on insurance payments for retiring fire chief Billy Christian. The proposal brought some opposition from both McCutchen and Matthews. Mansfield spoke in support, noting long-time employees were the backbone of City Hall. No action was slated on the agenda, but it was discussed that should an action be taken, it should become policy in the employee handbook for long-time employees.