The Ottumwa Courier

December 5, 2012

More notice needed before sewer projects begin

9 percent water bill increase next year concerns councilmen

CHELSEA DAVIS
Courier Staff Writer

OTTUMWA — While the council approved the Hamilton Street sewer project, some had concerns about how residents are notified of upcoming projects.

Public Works Director Larry Seals said the public hearing at Tuesday’s City Council meeting is the first way to notify residents of upcoming projects.

He said letters have never been sent out to potentially affected residents.

“I think it would be a good idea, and more cost effective, if someone were to leave a notification informing residents of the nature of the work to be performed and where it will be,” said Mayor Frank Flanders.

Councilman Mitch Niner suggested the Public Works department simply place flyers or door hangers on those residences that will be affected.

“It seems odd to me that this is our only attempt at letting citizens know when we’re starting to work on their street,” Niner said. “It wouldn’t take that much to walk up and down a street and put a hanger on a door. I’m wondering if it would have helped some situations we’ve had to deal with.”

Councilman Brian Morgan said it would also help open the lines of communication between the public and City Hall.

The Water Works Board of Trustees 2013 budget was approved 3-2, with Morgan and Niner as the dissenting votes.

Their concerns lie with an increase in sewer rates. Ottumwans will see a 4.5 percent increase in water rates on Jan. 1 and another 4.5 percent increase on July 1, said Water Works General Manager Mike Heffernan.

“That’s slightly over a 9 percent increase on water bills,” Morgan said. “That’s a pretty substantial jump. I think one thing I’m proud of up here is doing our best to slash sewer rates down, and doing the same with property taxes. That 9 percent really sticks out to me. It makes me a little nervous.”

Heffernan said the increase will amount to just less than $2 on the average resident’s water bill.

“The statewide trend for water rates increasing has been about 6.5 percent per year for the past five to six years,” Heffernan said.

Niner shared Morgan’s concerns.

“I want people to understand ... the council can vote up or down on this budget, and [Water Works] can continue with it anyway,” Niner said. “On behalf of those in this community that are still struggling ... this is something I won’t support.”

City Attorney Joni Keith said the city is close to coming to an agreement with Van Hauen & Associates, Inc. and Merchants Bonding Company to repair four blocks of North Sheridan Avenue, 59 panels of which have settled or cracked since the 2006 project. The council approved the extension of the statute of limitations by one year to give Van Hauen time to make repairs.

The council also approved an application for the 2013 Community Development Block Housing Sustainability Grant. The $380,000 grant would rehabilitate 10 homes on Ottumwa’s south side through roof replacement, doors, windows, electric and plumbing, said city planner Nick Klimek.