Humboldt sewer rates rise again

By RICHARD LUKEN
Register Reporter

HUMBOLDT — Sewer rates in Humboldt will increase for the third consecutive year in an effort to make the sewer fund self-sufficient.
Humboldt City Council members approved Monday an across-the-board 7.5-percent increase in base fees for both residential and commercial customers. In addition, rates for added consumption will increase 10 percent, or $4.57 for each 1,000 gallons.
That means a family that uses an average 3.6 units of water — a common usage amount, according to City Administrator Larry Tucker — will see its rates increase about $2.59 a month to $33.33.
The city has needed to increase its sewer rates for some time, Tucker explained, to help pay for recent improvements to the sewer system.
Prior to 2008, those payments came in part from transfers from Humboldt’s general and water funds, Tucker said.
“As I’ve said before, these services should be able to pay for themselves.”
Council members approved a 10-percent sewer rate hike in 2008, and another 5 percent in 2009.
Tucker estimates the higher rates will generate just under $55,000 next year, which matches the amount needed to fund its 2010 budget.
The vote for the higher sewer rates passed 6-2, with council members Otis Crawford and Jeremy Weilert opposed.
Sewer rates for residential customers are determined by using a winter average of water consumed between the months of December and February. Commercial customers are billed upon actual water usage throughout the year.
As an aside, Tucker provided council members figures showing the amount of water consumed for each month since January 2005, which sparked a discussion about unmetered water usage.
Council member Sean McReynolds noted unmetered water figures varied widely in certain months. For example, only 2,000 gallons were reported unmetered in February 2007, while 368,000 gallons were unmetered three months later.
The wild disparity is likely attributable to water leaks, City Clerk Jean Flores said.
“Plus, there’s a certain amount of water we just cannot account for each month,” Tucker said.
Council members agreed that new water lines, part of a pending upgrade to the city’s water distribution system, should help limit the amount of unaccounted-for water loss.

IN A RELATED matter, council members approved, 8-0, a new letter of conditions from the United States Department of Agriculture in order to secure funding for renovations to the city’s water lines.
The city will receive a $1.27 million loan from USDA, plus another $400,000 Community Development Block Grant.

COUNCIL members put the finishing touches on a number of items that had been discussed in recent months.
The city formally annexed three parcels of land immediately north and south of K-224, necessary to extend sewer lines and other utilities to the new Dollar General Store under construction on the north edge of town. In addition, the land was rezoned from agricultural to commercial use.
Council members also reaffirmed the city’s intention to purchase the old Emprise Bank building from Community National Bank. The letter of intent echoes a similar one approved in 2008.
The second letter was necessary because a city election was held in April, City Attorney Fred Works explained. And even though the council had the same members as a year ago, it was considered a “new” council after the election.
The letter of intent was approved 7-1, with Weilert opposed.
Council members will use Architectural Design Associates of Lincoln Neb., to design a community building proposal in Humboldt’s quest to receive additional Community Development Block Grant monies.
The city is seeking a $250,000 grant — it would be matched by $62,500 from the city — to build a new community building near Arrowood Lane and develop streets and sidewalks for a proposed senior housing complex in the neighborhood.
In order to apply for the grant funding, the city is required to notify the Southeast Kansas Regional Planning Commission, which administers the CDBG program, of the architect it would use if the grant is approved.
The motion passed 7-1, with Weilert opposed.

THOSE WHO wish to pay their utility bills or Humboldt Municipal Court fines online may do so now, for a fee.
Council members approved an agreement with nCourt, a software company that handles transactions over the Internet, to administer its online court and utility payments.
Utility customers would pay an added $4.75 for transactions of less than $150, or $7.95 for transactions above $150.
The added fee for court fines would vary from 6 to 15 percent and would be determined by the court date, Tucker explained.
There are no fees charged to the city, Tucker said.
While some might fret about paying extra for the online service, making it available could benefit others who wish to pay during non-business hours or to avoid added fees for late payments.

COUNCIL members approved donating two lots at 1212 Mulberry St. to USD 258 in order for Humboldt High School’s building trades class to build a house there.
There were two strings attached. The school district will pay the 2009 property taxes for the property, and USD 258 will waive the right to apply for neighborhood revitalization property tax rebates in exchange for the deed.
Tucker said USD 258 officials had accepted those terms.