Water, sewer rate hikes to take effect

EVART — After discussion by Evart City Council members and city residents alike, the council approved the city's 2014-15 budget at a May 5 meeting.

The meeting began with a public hearing on the budget, and many residents expressed their concerns about the city's financial crisis. Suggestions for added taxes, cutting more positions or entities, utilizing the Osceola County Sheriff's Office for police protection, and trying to reduce the costs of services were introduced by the public. City council members answered posed questions and argued against further cuts, saying the city has saved money by consolidating positions and services.

According to Evart City Manager Zack Szakacs, the budget is balanced thanks to the addition of higher rates for sewer and water services for city residents. Two city employees, one from the police department and one from the department of public works, also were laid off to help cut expenses.

Water rates will increase to $2.30 per thousand gallons, up from $1.09 per thousand gallons, and sewer rates will increase to $6.67 per thousand gallons, up from $2.57 per thousand gallons. In addition, the council approved a number of water system service fees, including a hydrant use charge, water tap fees, fire protection availability charges, connection charges and a cross connection inspection fee. Unmetered customers will be required to install a meter, and multifamily housing units will be charged a flat rate per month.

Both funds have been operating with a net loss since about 2007, according to John Tanner, who presented a water and sewer systems rate analysis. With 691 water system customers, revenue needs to be between $500,000 and $550,000 to break even. In addition, the water system survey revealed there is a need for about $2 million in water main replacement projects in the next five to 10 years.

Even with the increases, Tanner said Evart is still one of the lowest benchmark cities in the state for water and services, but it on the higher end for sewer services.

The price increases were approved with councilman Gregg Sherman opposed.

The city's budget summary document shows Evart's General Fund Revenue at almost $1,497,938, with total expenditures at $1,492,182. This leaves a net revenue of $5,765. Some of the highest expenditures include the Evart Police Department at about $286,000, expenses related to the DDA at about $700,000, refuse service at $82,000 and the department of public works at about $40,000.