By Jared Arnold/The Independent Staff
The Chewelah City Council was busy last Wednesday evening, Nov. 2, setting the property tax levy and utility rates for 2017, as well as approving a water system engineering study and a new K9 drug dog program for the Chewelah Police Dept.
The council approved a one percent increase for the property tax levy and utility rate increases for the upcoming 2017 budget year, a standard set of measures prior to approving the budget before the end of the year.
The one percent property tax increase will result in $4,050 additional revenue over the previous year’s tax collection of $405,009.83.
Utility rates will increase by 6 percent for electric and 17 percent for garbage, sewer, and water.
However, the increases to utility customers will be offset by the fact that customers will no longer pay a separate utility tax on their bill. According to Resolution 16-14, revised guidance from the state auditor forced the city to remove the tax from the rate schedule and incorporate it into the utility rate. For example, in 2016, city residential customers paid $6 for a basic monthly charge plus a separate 6 percent tax ($0.36). Starting in 2017, the customer will see a basic monthly charge of $6.36 with no additional tax.
Additionally, utility customers will see a 2.4 cent increase per KWH for electric usage and a one dollar increase per garbage toter.
The property tax and rate increases were passed unanimously and no public comments were received.
Engineering for water system upgrade
The council approved a $242,400 loan to fund the engineering of water system upgrades after a presentation by Tom Haggerty of E&H Engineering.
The preconstruction loan from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund of the Department of Health will allow the city to develop engineered plans for improvements to the city’s water system, including a new well, pump station, transmission main, and booster station.
The loan will be repaid over six years with an additional $4 per month charge to city water customers, except those at the golf course. “Everybody at the golf course is on a separate water system, so it’s not going to affect their water base rate,” Frizzell explained.
When the plans are completed within one year, the city can then seek funding for the project’s estimated $1.8 million cost. Money for the project would likely come from a combination of loans and Community Development Block Grants, according to city administrator Mike Frizzell.
Haggerty explained that water system planning done in 2000 and 2008 identified a deficiency in total water that can be pumped into the existing system and warned that an emergency such as a fire could cause the city’s reservoirs to run out of water. He also noted that an upgrade would allow for future growth of the city through additional connections to the city’s water system.
“It’s always best to be working at these things as solutions now, as opposed to when you actually do run out of water,” Haggerty said to the council.
Frizzell estimated that the preconstruction engineering would take approximately one year, another year would be needed to secure the project funding, and then construction could be completed in the third year.
Councilwoman Carra Nupp wondered what city customers would think about paying for upgrades that will not correct issues with the quality of the city’s water.
“What do we tell the residents that are already concerned with the quality of the water and we’re now going to increase [rates]? How are we going to address that?” Nupp asked Frizzell.
“Quality of water is a separate issue,” Frizzell explained about manganese, which causes discoloration, in the city’s water supply. “It’s not a health hazard, but it’s a nuisance.”
Frizzell estimated that water rates would be nearly doubled in order to pay for the filtration system needed to clean up the water.
“It is our responsibility to look down the road and make sure our children and grandchildren have water,” Councilwoman Sharon Ludwig said before making a motion to approve the loan.
The motion passed unanimously.
Sand Canyon property sold
After a closed-door executive session to “discuss minimum price at which real estate will be offered for sale” the council voted 6-1 to accept a $48,000 offer to purchase from the city a 14 acre parcel on Sand Canyon Rd. Councilman John May voted against accepting the offer. The property, along with another nearby 20 acre parcel, was declared surplus by the council in March.
Police drug dog program approved
In an effort to reduce the drug activity in town, the council unanimously approved a request from the Police Department to start a K9 drug dog program in Chewelah. The department will assign Officer Matt Miller to the new dog after Miller completes six weeks of training with the dog, which will begin November 28.
The initial cost of the program will be approximately $4,300 which includes the purchase of the dog from Spokane County Deputy Bob Bond and six weeks of travel expenses for Miller to attend the training in Spokane. Bond made a presentation earlier this year about his K9 program to the council.
Frizzell explained that the ongoing costs of the program for the department will be between $12,240 and $40,440 per year and Chief of Police Mark Burrows said his department would do everything they could to minimize those costs.
“These are worst-case numbers and we’re hoping to be well under that, with a lot of advantages to the community,” Burrows said.
Although questions remained about how the program would be funded in the future, council support for the program was strong.
“I can’t express how important I feel that we should provide this service to the community. It may cost some money but I think that the payback is going to be way more than we’re going to spend,” Councilman John May said.
“I don’t think there’s a question of whether we need it,” Councilwoman Carra Nupp added.
Councilwoman Roberta McMillin announced at the end of the discussion that she would donate her $100 council pay back to the police department in support of the program. Later, Councilman Wight did the same.
In other business, the council approved the Mayor’s new method for making annual wage and salary adjustments for permanent non-union full-time employees.
“Last year, I had a brilliant plan – and it was brilliant last year – but this year it was not so brilliant. We used the Association of Washington Cities’ average salaries for our size of city and we settled on 85 percent for each [position]. This year when we went to do the same thing we discovered that all of the cities don’t report every year, so it made no sense this year at all. We had employees that would have had to take a pay cut. So we started searching for something that was going to be a little more stable and made a little more sense. [We] came up with the Employment Cost Index for State and Local Governments and that’s published every year,” Mayor Dorothy Knauss explained about the change. The Employment Cost Index is published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“It’s a newer method that we think would be more stable when it comes to proposing increases every year,” Knauss added.
For 2017, those employees will receive a 1.7% wage increase based on the data from June 2015 to June 2016.
The next regular city council meeting is scheduled for November 16, 6:30 p.m.