Gravois Trustees and sewer board meet face-to-face to discuss grievances
By Janet Dabbs
GRAVOIS MILLS, Mo. – Tension and legal maneuvering finally brought the Gravois Mills Board of Trustees and Gravois Arm Sewer District to the same room last week.
After the Board of Trustees discussed drafting an ordinance to mandate metered sewer in the village, members of the GASD attended the Trustees’ June 12 public meeting to discuss the issue.
Expert sewer rate analyst Carl Brown summarized the discussion saying, “Growth will cure the ills of the Gravois Sewer District.”
Sewer rates too high
Gravois Board Chairman Brad Vold informed the attendees that the sewer rates in the village were not affordable for the economically oppressed residents and businesses in the village of Gravois Mills. Vold added that many have moved out of the village because of the strain caused by their sewer bill.
He also said people will not relocate their residence or business into the village proper, due to the excessive rates and liens that GASD has placed on properties with unpaid sewer bills.
The sewer rate for residents is $56 a month. Businesses pay $61 a month, plus an additional surcharge depending on the type business and usage. There are approximately 100 residents in the village at this time.
The rate was raised 1.8 percent in 2011. According to the United States Department of Agriculture Rural Development, the rates could have been raised equivalent to the 2011 standard cost of living increase which was 3.6 percent.
As a public comment, Amanda Laporte a resident of Gravois Mills and former Gravois Mills Realtor®, asked if it was the board position that the only economical issue that was causing people to leave Gravois Mills was a $56 a month sewer bill?
“No, the sewer is part of the reason. This is what people have told me,” said Vold.
“The people of the village could afford the $26 rate that was advertised when the sewer was being voted on.”
McCaffrey reported that the amount that was announced from the start was $47.
“This fact can be verified through meeting minutes, engineering reports and published newspaper articles,” said McCaffree.
Rates based on median household income
Aldermen Bob Swengrosh said he believed the problem was the district used the 2000 census median household income of Morgan County, which was $30,659 annually, when setting the rates according to the two percent of the median household income as set by USDA, rather than the median household income of Gravois Mills.
“If you would have based your rates on the Gravois Mills $14,000 annual median income the district would never have been built,” said Swengrosh.
(Swengrosh was mistaken since the village’s median income in 2000 was $24,167.)
The Gravois Mills current median household income, according to the 2010 census is $20,000 and Morgan counties median income is $35,354. One of the reasons the Morgan County median household income was used is because the district originally planned to serve customers in Morgan County that are beyond the village of Gravois Mills.
Metering vs. flat rates
SSE Engineer Jim Fisher reported that he had completed quite a bit of research regarding sewer metering.
“The problem is there is no good way to do that for individual sewers. You would ideally want a meter for each home,” said Fisher.
City Meters, Co., has a patent on individual sewer meters, but Fisher has been unable to reach them. He reported that since the system is already built, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to implement the meters on the existing system due to the size of the meter.
“The meters are 4-foot long and 15 inches tall. They require 15 inches of additional vertical drop in the current service line, which is likely not available,” said Fisher.
There would also be an additional cost for installation, maintenance and to have employees read the meters each month. Fisher added that metering sewer would have a negative impact on full-time customers, causing them to pay the brunt of the costs, because they would pay by usage. Those that are part-time customers would pay according to their seasonal usage.
“If we meter rates in the village we may possibly be obligated to meter throughout entire system,” said GASD Attorney Bill McCaffrey.
Show me the money
The district has been operating in the red. In June they were $14,000 in the red. The district’s debt service costs, that which is obligated to loans, is $47 per customer, per month. This amount does not include operation and maintenance costs.
“The district has only one revenue stream and that is from users paying for sewer service,” said Taylor.
The district is close to bringing an additional 500 customers online.
“The additions will bring the district into the black and help keep rates from rising, but we will not earn enough revenue from the additional customers to lower the current rates,” said Taylor.
“I have been to your meetings and seen your finances. The problem is the project is too big for so few who are in this low income bracket,” said Gravois Board Trustee John Brooks.
“Is there a way to reduce the debt or extending the debt so payments are less and rates can be reduced to an affordable level?”
Legal battle vs. working together to find a solution
“The point is you are free to litigate this if you want to, but you will force us to litigate as well and we would prefer to find a solution,” said McCaffrey.
“We are available for you to come and speak with our financial people and poke holes in it to find a solution to this. This board is anxious to do the right thing. We could go to the Supreme Court if you want to but there are too many lawsuits with people who are mad at each other and no one benefits, but the attorneys.”
McCaffrey assured the Gravois trustees that they would make a sincere effort to come up with a scenario to collect from all customers on a fair and equitable basis.
“Whether that is metered or flat remains to be seen. The best way would be to set the rates based on averages, whether the customer is a resident, or a business and the type of business and usage. As more customers are added, the cost will be shared and this needs to happen as quickly as possible,” said McCaffrey.
The two boards agreed to set a meeting to discuss options. The village board was asked to provide information on the number of residents living in the village along with any information on certain areas where they felt there were unfair charges.
Estimated cost for a water meter:
Cost to install water meter: $500 to install
Cost to purchase flow meters: $1,500 - $2,000
0 to 1,000 gallons: a decrease of $15 a month
2,000 gallons: a decrease of $3.50 a month
3,000 gallons: an increase of $8.25 a month.
4,000 gallons: an increase of $20 a month
Officials said the estimated amounts do not reflect debt service or maintenance and will have to be included.
Cost per customer for a sewer meter:
1,000 gallons: a reduction of $7.50 a month
Over 1,000 gallons: an increase
The average flow is 4,000 gallons a month
The national average is 5,000 gallons a month
4,000 gallons a month: an increase of up to $21 to $25.59 per month
The Gravois Board of Trustees discuss sewer issues with the Gravois Arm Sewer District at their board of trustees meeting Tuesday, June 12 in Gravois Mills. Pictured are,from left, Village Attorney Greg Williams, Trustee Bob Swengrosh, Trustee Jack Feller, Chairman Brad Vold and Board Treasurer/Secretary John Brooks.