Published 12:00 am Monday, August 11, 2003
bond issue approved by city; petition falls short
[8/9/03]A last-minute petition did not have enough signatures to call for a referendum on the administration’s second bond issue, and the city moved forward Friday to borrow another $5.8 million to fund water and sewer improvements.
The cost of repaying the 10-year general obligation bonds will be about $530,000 annually and is expected to result in a water and sewer rate increase. City officials did not say how much of an increase will be needed to pay for the loan and said the first payment, which is due in 12 months, has not been budgeted yet.
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The funds from the sale of the bonds will be used to build six new water wells, install additional fire hydrants, install electronic water and gas meters and make water and sewer improvements in the annexed areas.
“This board felt that it was necessary not to put this off for another administration to take care of the annexed areas,” said North Ward Alderman Gertrude Young. “These people need and deserve this.”
A petition with about 620 signatures was presented to the City Clerk at 9:58 a.m., two minutes before the deadline, but had an insufficient number of names to call for a public vote on the bond issue. The petition was gathered by city resident John Shorter, 103 Starlight Drive, who said the possible increases in water and sewer rates will put an undue burden on people who cannot afford it.
“During the roundup of the petition it became obvious that the city is becoming increasingly divided between the haves and the have-nots,” Shorter said.
“To borrow money and say you are going to put this on the utility fees when it should come out of the general fund is just not right,” he added.
In order to call for a vote, the petition needed to have the names of at least 1,500 registered voters. There are 16,000 voters in the city listed on voter rolls.
Although city officials have not set an amount of increase to utility bills to pay off the bond, the cost will be about $44,166 each month. There are between 9,000 and 10,000 customers on the city’s utility system meaning the cost per customer should be about $4.42 per month.
Mayor Laurence Leyens, who did not attend the public hearing, said utility rates would likely go up in the next year to pay off the bond and to offset the rising costs of natural gas. Today, the city is subsidizing utility rates from cash reserves.
He added that by borrowing the funds now at lower interest rates the city would be able to do all the work at less cost to taxpayers.
“We believe we’re on the right path,” Leyens said.
Work planned with the bond monies includes replacing 2-inch water lines in Kings with 8-inch water lines and installing fire hydrants in the South Ward annexed area. In 1990, the city annexed 21.5 square miles mostly along U.S. 61 in the south and North Washington Street in the north.
“This should have been done years ago and not 10 years after the fact,” said South Ward Alderman Sid Beauman.
Many residents in those areas annexed 13 years ago say they have never received the services promised, but have been paying taxes for those services.