Westfield councilors begin utility rate increase process

Posted May 30, 2013 at 5:00 am

By Julie Ann Madden

Westfield councilors learned more about the town’s utility rate’s depleted funds.

The city’s water utility fund is “in the hole,” City Clerk Barbette Grimm informed councilors. “Even after bailing it out of the hole once.”

Westfield’s sewer utility fund is nearly empty, too.

In June 2012, councilors transferred $31,000 from the town’s electric fund, giving the water fund a $16,000 boost and the sewer fund $15,000, she explained. Currently, the water fund is in the red by $5,000 and the sewer fund has just $3,500 left.

Grimm suggested the council consider increasing both the water and sewer utility rates by a minimum of $15 each.

One of the problems with revenues is several residents’ water meters are broken and need fixed. Therefore, these residents can only be charged the minimum water usage charge.

It was unanimous to temporarily hire someone at $12 an hour to repair all the inoperable water meters by the end of June.

Grimm was asked to bring back more information on the utility funds’ situation, including information on other town’s rates.

Grimm also presented the council with a letter received from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources about the city’s water testing procedures.

On April 25, DNR Environmental Specialist Senior Julie Sievers and Environmental Specialist Lois Benson met with City Engineer Elliot Waddell and City Employee Terry Jolin.

Procedure issues were regarding high combined radium levels in the water supply, some of which may be due to water samples being taken at an “inaccurate location” which had been specified by DNR’s procedures. The correct location for this testing has now been determined to be the source/entry point of the City Hall’s bathroom tap.

Since these results have been “invalidated,” city officials will receive a monitoring violation, requiring public notice, wrote Benson.

More manganese is to be removed from the water supply because it affects the combined radium levels. Jolin was instructed in using a modified test method which will allow measurement of different types of manganese which will provide information for adjusting the manganese levels. Jolin was to begin daily monitoring of manganese levels and slowly decrease the amount of potassium permanganate added to the water supply.

The city’s water supply is monitored through an “affidavit agreement” where city officials have delegated to the operator the authority necessary to assume direct responsible charge of the system operation and maintenance.” Waddell is the “operator by affidavit” and Jolin is the daily water system operator who provides system maintenance and conducts water quality testing. The DNR requires Waddell to meet with Jolin on a weekly basis.

“Mr. Jolin is doing a good job on the daily work,” wrote Benson, commending him for his research on the water treatment process and chemical feed levels.

In a telephone interview with Benson May 20, she explained the notice was for past testing procedures of combined radium. The water sampling for testing had been taken at the groundwater source instead of a water sample after treatment through the city’s water system.

“We had to invalidate some of those samples,” said Benson, “so we aren’t certain the water was safe (to drink) during that time period because (the water) was tested prior to treatment.”

“There is no reason to think it’s unsafe,” she added. “(City officials) have always been treating (the water) during that entire time period. There was never a time they weren’t so yes, the water is safe to drink.”

“They are treating for the contaminants but because we didn’t have valid results we can’t say what the levels were,” said Benson. If the water had not been safe to drink, the DNR would have issued another type of public notice.

“This public notice was issued because of monitoring methods (not water quality issues),” she said. “We’re optimizing the treatment procedures (now).”

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