In a special session Tuesday that was more somber than verbose, the Helena-West Helena City Council and Mayor Kevin Smith had a frank discussion of several financial issues the city faces.

In a special session Tuesday that was more somber than verbose, the Helena-West Helena City Council and Mayor Kevin Smith had a frank discussion of several financial issues the city faces, and at the end of the two-hour meeting, the Council appeared to be leaning towards a 20-percent rate increase on water, and a projected $5 per month increase on sewer rates.
The Council is expected to vote on increases and take some type of official action within the course of its next two regular meetings, perhaps as soon as its June 18 session next week.
To raise an additional $250,000 off 4,600 water meters, it would take approximately $54 extra per meter, and over six months, the per meter per month would be approximately $9.05.
Also on the table was the idea of a sales tax increase, but as Council member Joe St. Columbia noted, "That would have to be voted on by the people."
The meeting also touched on other subjects, which were all ultimately budget-related, such as police salaries as well as salaries of certain certified personnel within the water and sewer department.
Early in the special meeting, Council members mostly asked for specifics on spending and repairing infrastructure.  Council member Don Etherly cited city streets as an example of priorities being set on which streets needed repair.
"We are being asked for rate increases and nothing attached to it," he said.
Smith told the Council that they were the only ones that could take action on the financial issues and major repairs that the city needed.
Twice over the evening, he asked the group "What do you need to make a decision?"
And twice, St. Columbia responded, "We can't do anything until we have numbers."
Etherly asked, "What are we fixing, and what is it going to cost?"
Smith repeated information heard before, some repeated from the presentation by former Water Director Jack Ross a month ago, and he also said again, "If we are not solvent, the state will take over."
It was suggested that a "temporary increase" for six months, or the rest of 2019, could be an immediate action to bring in additional funds, with a permanent schedule of rate increases to follow in 2020 after a rate study.
It was also noted that Sanitation revenue was going mostly to operational costs, and little to the landfill itself, so a rate increase was needed on those rates as well.
A bond issue was suggested for the landfill, but Smith said that even a bond issue would require some type of Sanitation rate increase.  Smith also said a public hearing would have to be held on any Sanitation increase.
A proposed sales tax increase, which must be put before Helena-West Helena voters, was discussed as a longer term solution to increase the city's revenue stream, but no specifics in terms of percentages, dedications, or possible election dates were discussed.