Westfield councilors begin utility improvements

Posted May 15, 2018 at 3:30 pm

By Julie Ann Madden

With much hesitation about going into debt, Westfield councilors unanimously approved the first of several water and sewer upgrades at their April 16 meeting.

At their March meeting, Mayor Mike Tadlock had requested the council approve city officials getting a loan to pay for cleaning the city’s sewage lagoons. However, the motion died for lack of a second.

At this meeting, he again made the request for authority to get a $40,000 loan to cover the lagoon cleaning cost.

City Clerk Talia Evenson reminded the council the original request was for a $40,000 loan with a 3.5 percent interest rate for five years. The city’s monthly loan payment would be approximately $730.

“Where are we going to get the money to pay this loan payment?” asked Councilor Jenny Hartman-Mendoza.

“Raise rates,” said Evenson, noting the council had set a public hearing regarding raising both the minimum sewer and water rates by $10 — to a minimum of $29 a month — at the March meeting.

Tadlock explained the rates had been set at $19 per month in 2015; however, the former city clerk had never charged property owners that rate increase. In February, city officials implemented that increase.

“Nobody’s going to loan you money if you can’t pay for it,” said Evenson, explaining both Siouxland Interstate Metropolitan Planning Council (SIMPCO) and United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) officials had said city officials would have to raise the rates before they would loan the city money for utility improvements. “You are going to have to (raise rates).”

The council had approved a public hearing on raising the rates for this meeting but later city officials decided to postpone the hearing.

Evenson and Tadlock suggested the council raise rates for the lagoon cleaning project and then again later when the Lift Station Improvement Project commences.

“(Raising each $10) we could pay for the lagoon loan and put aside some toward the lift station,” said Councilor Beth Terpstra.

“I’m the last one who wants to raise rates,” said Tadlock, explaining it will affect more than 50 percent of the city’s residents because they live on fixed incomes. “But in the same token, at some point in time, this infrastructure is going to start to fail.”

He noted there will come a point when the lagoons will be too full of sewage and the test results will not be acceptable to state officials.

“I hope everybody realizes we’re not just trying to be spend-happy and do this,” said Tadlock. “(Fixing this) isn’t going to happen overnight.”

Everyone, both commercial and residential customers, will notice the increase as it’s applied on the minimum utility rate charge, said Evenson.

When asked if the city’s financial situation was improving, Evenson responded the city’s financial records have been balanced to June 2017 but fund accounting is still not set up. Although she feels the city is in better financial shape, it’s only a “subjective” answer.

With the loan information being more than a month old now, Tadlock noted they didn’t know exactly what the interest rate would be or how to pay the loan back — except to raise rates.

“We need to approve it, finance it and be done with it,” Evenson told the councilors as Councilor Beth Terpstra requested Evenson get updated loan and utility rate information and then call a special meeting. “We did that last month. We need to get to a point we’re ready to make a decision because how many times (do you want the information presented?)”

One time constraint is the sewage needs to be applied to nearby farm fields, and soon the farmer will want to start planting his crops. Another is Froggy Bottom LLC owner Ken Less had the time to do this project now but may not have time in the fall.

“I know it needs to be done,” said Councilor Jenny Hartman-Mendoza. “I’m not complaining. We have to make that payment. We just need to know we have enough houses in town that if we raise it $10, we’ll be able to do that.”

Evenson told the council Westfield has 70 residential, four commercial and one government customer.

Councilor Marcia Dewey suggested raising the minimum rate for residential $10 and commercial $15. It was noted other cities have higher commercial rates.

However, Hartman-Mendoza made a motion to raise the water and sewer rates $10 each and set a public hearing for 6:15 p.m., Monday, April 30, on the rate increase and city’s financial options.

“It’s going to be $20 more on my bill,” said Dewey as she seconded the motion. “I’m going to go bankrupt.”

The vote was unanimous with Councilor James Feauto voting via phone conference.

Then Dewey made a motion to authorize Less to start cleaning the lagoons, immediately, noting his bid price was $40,000. Terpstra seconded the motion, and it passed unanimously.

In other business, the Council:

• Heard a complaint about a homeowner parking a camper too close to Iowa Highway 12. It obstructs motorists’ view when attempting to enter the highway and there have been multiple times when auto accidents have nearly happened.

• Unanimously approved renewing Hummer’s Roadhouse Bar & Grill’s liquor license for another year.

• Unanimously approved The Road Guy’s bid for seal-coating city streets this summer. His bid was $1.64 per square yard to $1.74 per square yard for a total between $35,000 and $37,000.

The streets were last seal-coated in 2014.

• Considered the need for a food pantry in Westfield. The consensus was to have Food Bank of Siouxland officials work with the Westfield Congregational United Church of Christ congregation.

• Consented to have Hartman-Mendoza be the city’s representative on the Community Foundation of Greater Plymouth County’s Executive Board.

• Unanimously approved donating $50 to the Akron-Westfield After Prom but took no action on a donation request from the Akron-Westfield Athletic Booster Club.

• Discussed the library building. It was noted Tadlock was waiting for snowstorms to end to gain entrance into the building. Then the council and prospective buyers could inspect the building and its contents.

Some residents have asked what would happen with the books. One resident’s suggestion was to have an “open house” so residents could see the condition of the books and give input to the council before they make a final decision.

Councilors were concerned the building may not be structurally sound enough to allow people into the building as the east side’s foundation has crumbled. Tadlock thought city officials may be able to shore up the building.

Several councilors were frustrated that although residents talked to councilors but no one came to the council meeting even though they were invited.

Councilors’ consensus was to move the books to the Westfield Community Center and have a weekend “open house.” Tadlock asked them to wait until city officials could determine if the building was structurally sound.

It was also reported no historical knowledge was found on the librarian’s desk.

The council thought it would be at least June before anything could be done. The council will set the weekend open house dates at their May meeting.

Hartman-Mendoza asked if there would be any more cost such as filling in the hole once the building is removed from the site. If there is any of the insurance money left over, she would like it used toward a new concession stand building.

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