Going up.

The McAlester City Council approved a city ordinance on Tuesday night to increase rates for water, sewer and trash pickup by 30 percent.

The council had been offered two options. The one recommended by the Municipal Finance Authority, a financial consulting company hired by the city, would have increased rates by 24 percent.

However, the council opted for the higher increase.

Voting for the 30 percent increase were Ward 2 Councilor Donnie Condit; Ward 3 Councilor Michael Dawkins; Ward 4 Councilor Haven Wilkinson; Ward 5 Councilor Buddy Garvin, Ward 6 Councilor Sam Mason and Mayor Don Lewis.

The council passed the rate hikes as an emergency, meaning the price hikes will take effect immediately.

Only Ward 1 City Councilor Greg Rock voted against the rate hikes. Rock implored his fellow councilors to consider all other options before passing the rate increases.

“We’re trying to save the city,” Rock said. “We’re trying to do it on the backs of the citizens. ” The citizens who will be paying the higher bills did not have anything to do with creating the city’s financial problems, he said.

“They want to see other options,” Rock said, asking the other councilors not to make the easy decision to raise rates.

“I don’t see this as easy,” Lewis said. “This is a very tough decision.”

The action taken by the city council on Tuesday raised the minimum water rate in the city up from the current $9.16 up to $11.91, for a $2.75 increase, according to City Manager Susan Monroe.

It raised the minimum rate for sewer service from the current $5.63 up to $7.32, for an increase of $1.69.

The council action raised monthly garbage rates up from the current $16.55 to $21.52 for an increase of $4.97.

The price hike included two amendments by Condit. One will require the council to reconsider the rate hike again at the end of the fiscal year.

The other will tie a discount of the water rate to definitions of “very low income” as defined for the area by the federal Housing and Urban Development agency. Those who qualify could be eligible for a discount of $13.68 on their monthly water bills, although the discount could not fall below the minimum required payment of $11.91.

Preliminary figures Pittsburg County for fiscal year 2005 show that a “very low income” for a single person household is set at $14,450 annually. The “30 percent median” is $8,650 annually. Monroe said the city is still working on which numbers to use.

Before the vote, Ward 6 Councilor Sam Mason said the city has been paying its monthly bills on the basis of funds available.

“I have compassion for the people,” Mason said, referring to those who will be paying the rate increases. “Again, I have to look at the overall picture.”

Condit asked Monroe about other options.

“We will have to cut jobs immediately; we will have to cut services immediately,” Monroe said. She said if the measure did not pass, some jobs at City Hall could be lost by next week.

In other action, the council approved postponing a series of loan payments through agreements with banks where the loans had been made.

The council approved resolutions to amend lease agreements Nos. 113, 117, 118, 121 and 122. They were originally entered between 2000 and 2003 to acquire a pumper fire truck, six police cars, seating and equipment at the Southeast Expo Center and a road grader, according to city records.

Tuesday night’s amendments revised the agreements to defer the principal amounts for six months to help alleviate the city’s cash flow needs.

The council also approved deferred loan payments for the construction of hangars at McAlester Regional Airport; a deferred loan payment for the purchase of 15 city vehicles and a deferred loan payment for upgrades at the water treatment plant.

The city council also approved a work order change for Komar Warehouse infrastructure improvements. The original contract with Roy G, Engleman Construction allowed 60 calendar days to complete construction of Komar Drive. The changes granted an additional 14 days to complete the contract.

The council also approved a contract with Rural Water District No. 7. As part of a lawsuit settlement agreement, the city of McAlester has agreed to provide RWD No. 7 with 355 million gallons free of charge.

The council also heard a request by Cecil Wade asking the city to address a drainage problem in the area of 800 W. Brewer.

Wade said that when there is a heavy rain, water overflows the ditches. He said there is also an exposed sewer line in the area.

City Engineer George Marcangeli said the grade of an old WPA ditch is the problem and that it will be costly to solve. City officials said they would take another look at the problem.

Afterwards, one of the McAlester residents who attended the meeting said he hadn’t liked the rate increase, but he’s resigned to it.

“I didn’t like the idea of borrowing money” to pay some of the city’s debts, said Jim Rice. “When you borrow money to pay for other borrowed money ... this is what makes the credit card companies rich.”

“I guess it’s time to bite the bullet. The longer we don’t do anything, the more it’s going to cost us.”

The rate increase ordinance included a provision that automatic rate increases which the city council previously tied to the Consumer Price Index will not resume until Jan. 1, 2007. The CPI adjustments will then resume for each January thereafter, according to the ordinance.



Contact James Beaty at jbeaty@mcalesternews.com