Palmyra revives water, sewer rates hike talks
Mike Arnold, Contributing Writer
Increased water supply prices and significant sewer expenses led the Palmyra Town Council to revisit raising rates during its council and utilities board meeting Thursday at the town hall.
Palmyra purchases water from Ramsey Water Co. Inc., which raised the town’s rates 15% more than a year ago. Palmyra prepared to pass that hike along to customers in early 2020 then and in 2021 but shelved that plan due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meanwhile, the town continues to shoulder the additional expense, which has become a concern for its future finances.
Councilwoman Christall Ingle said she reviewed the town’s utility data from 2019 to 2021. The council, which also serves as the town’s utilities board, talked through its options and the need to ensure funds are available to address future infrastructure repairs and upgrades.
“We are better in the water category than we are in the sewer,” Ingle said. “If we don’t do something, we’re not going to have anything.”
Not all water customers are attached to the town’s sewer system and sewer usage is not metered. The council believed a 15% water rate increase was reasonable to absorb increased costs from Ramsey Water; however, determining the extent of the sewer rate hike was more difficult and led to debate among council members. It was eventually proposed that sewer rates increase by 8%.
“We want to make small increases to address everyone’s needs,” Ingle said. “The longer we draw these meetings out, we are losing revenue. You cannot foresee what is going to break next in our infrastructure.”
Councilman Wyman (Lee) Childers said he was comfortable with the proposed water rate increase of 15% but suggested additional review was necessary on the sewer rate jump.
“I’m not going to decide right now on the sewer,” Childers said.
Town attorney Adam Burkhardt said the town would likely be able to move forward with introducing an ordinance in a future meeting to propose increasing rates. That would be followed by public hearings and other required actions. He also mentioned he did not believe a rate study would be required.
After additional discussion, Ingle and council president Virginia (Jenny) Kirkham voted to draft the proposal raising water and sewer rates 15% and 8%, respectively, for discussion and vote at a future meeting, while Childers abstained.
Ingle also indicated if the increases are successful, the town would continue with plans to fix issues with the additional funds and review the impact of the rate increases in a year.
In another matter, the council was addressed by Jill Saegesser, of The Wheatley Group, an economic development strategy firm, who explained the Harrison County Community Foundation received a grant from the Eli Lilly Foundation in 2019 to develop comprehensive and asset management plans for the county’s 10 incorporated towns. Palmyra, Lanesville and New Middletown were chosen to begin this year. Four towns will take part in 2022 and the remaining three in 2023.
Saegesser distributed a comprehensive plan outline to the council and explained some of the aspects the town could focus on in development of its plan such as land use, arts promotion, festivals, utilities, sidewalks and parks. Plans are tailored to address future growth and projects.
“It’s a really good opportunity,” she said. “A lot of times the plan leads to more planning and zoning (among other improvements). You can sit back and deal with things as they happen or plan for how you want them to happen.”
Saegesser noted Palmyra met criteria to be classified as a low-/medium-income community, which means it would be eligible to apply for a planning grant to assist with administration services and costs. The HCCF would cover the local match for the grant.
If the planning grant is received, Chelsea Crump, of River Hills Economic Development District Regional Planning Commission, who was also at the meeting, would work with the town to develop its plans, likely beginning in January (applications are due Nov. 12).
“That scope of work meets the requirement,” Saegesser said. “All of these plans are going to be similar format. It’s going to be like having a family of plans.”
In addition to website updates, Crump will assist with establishing steering committees to generate ideas for the plans, as well as conducting demographic analysis. Public hearings will also be scheduled, likely in conjunction with the regular town council meetings.
“Basically, I’m here to help you with anything you need for the planning grant,” Crump said. “We’ll be here to support you guys.”
Saegesser said the steering committees would function more as working groups and encouraged the council not to limit the meetings to just town residents but to include individuals outside the town limits who might own businesses in town or spend time there for other reasons.
As part of the grant application, the town is required to submit seven letters of support.
The council voted to move forward with the grant process.
“I look forward to having some positive reactions from the community,” Childers said.
The council also heard from residents on separate issues involving requested vacation of platted but unimproved town streets.
Josh Dean, who is planning a greenhouse and farm stand on lots he owns on the town’s south side, asked for approval of the project and to get information about vacating parts of Martin Street near his property.
The council had no issues with Dean’s plans for and agreed to issue a letter of support. Burkhardt also indicated he would contact Dean to walk through additional details and begin research for vacating the public ways in question.
Residents Debra Ray and Charles Atkins also spoke concerning closing an alley between two lots they own along Heuser Street.
Burkhardt said the property in question was actually platted as a roadway.
“I don’t think there would be any trouble with vacating that,” he added, noting there could be separate, unrelated issues connected with building on the lots once vacate.
Atkins and Ray’s petition to consider vacating the roadway will be reviewed.
“This is just the first step for you to ask the town the question,” Burkhardt added.
Town marshal Dennis Lemmel reported the recent Pal Wow festival the previous weekend was a success from a law enforcement perspective. He also noted reserve officers will be out for Halloween and said he recently applied for a grant to cover 80% (with a 20% local match) to provide new ballistic vests for the officers.
In other business, the council and utility board:
Set the town’s trick-or-treat night for Saturday, Oct. 30, from 6 to 8 p.m.
Approved purchase of two sewer grinder pumps for the town’s installation that serves Morgan Elementary School and also a 30-gallon air compressor for the sewer department.
Extended acting water superintendent Steven Schmitt Schmitt’s contract until at least Oct. 18.