In the June 18 meeting's final minutes, Council member Wanda Crockett came forward with her proposal to temporary raise the basic water rate to $5 per month starting July 1.
After two hours of familiar questions, answers, and testimony from water officials, it appeared that Tuesday's meeting of the Helena-West Helena City Council would end with no action, but in the meeting's final minutes, Council member Wanda Crockett came forward with her proposal to temporary raise the basic water rate to $5 per month starting July 1. The council, then, unanimously approved the measure as the meeting ended.
Crockett said, "We need to get some money in here," but in making her motion, Crockett also said she didn't support using revenues from the rate hike for staff salary increases, and she specified that when she stepped forward to make her motion.
"We are prepared to do something here, but there can be no salary increases," she said. Council member Joe St. Columbia gave second to Crockett's unexpected motion.
Crockett's motion called for a "temporary $5 per month flat increase" to run from July to December 2019. The increase will be applied to the first 1,000 gallons of water only, and cannot be used for salary increases.
The previous hour and 45 minutes of Tuesday night's session saw testimony from both Dennis Sternberg, director of the Arkansas Rural Water Association, and Glen Greenway of the Arkansas Dept. of Health.
Sternberg presented a rate study that showed that the City of Helena-West Helena had the second lowest water rates in the state. He also said that the city had one of the oldest water systems in the state.
"You have an aging infrastructure here," Sternburg said.
For his part, Greenway said that the city's water system had no violations at the current time, and Council member Christopher Franklin asked Greenway to repeat that statement twice for emphasis.
Greenway confirmed, saying "The good news here is that you have no violations, and you can still solve these issues locally."
Greenway did speak to the importance of having licensed water operators, and he also spoke to various fines and penalties, if licensed personnel were not employed.
For Franklin, the continuing issue was about accountability.
"There are a lot of questions floating around. We are being asked to go up on rates, and the citizens have to trust us again. We are going to take the hit here," Franklin said, "On many issues, the council has been kept in the dark."
Three of those issues Franklin touched on was the cashing of certain city CDs without the council's knowledge, and what he said was "six months of missing receipts" and "mismanagement." Franklin also asked to see the expense reports for the water company.
City Treasurer Derrick Turner exchanged with Franklin on a couple of his points, saying "I don't think there was mismanagement involved. I think the rates have not been high enough to cover our expenses."
The city will still need to address sewer rates, and by law, must have a public hearing before they can address the issue. The council is also scheduled to meet again next week, on Thursday, June 27.