Attempt to pause Alva utility rate increase is defeated
May 22, 2022
The most contested item on Monday night’s Alva City Council agenda involved discussion and action to pause the scheduled rate increase on utilities set to begin July 1. Both sides stated opinions, but Mayor Kelly Parker shut down repetitious and off-topic debate because of the long agenda.
Because Troy Brooks had requested the topic be put on the agenda, Parker asked him to explain why.
“I’ve had a lot of requests, a lot of people that just cannot afford an increase. If I could permanently put a pause on it, I would, but I think at least for this year, the way things are going I think we should put a pause it and not put a burden on a lot of people in the community that can’t afford it,” said Brooks.
“Everybody’s well aware that any reduction in revenue also comes with a reduction in expenses. Do you have any suggestions?” asked Parker.
Brooks offered no ideas so the mayor called for a motion.
“I motion that we pause Resolution 2017-009, section 3 to pause the scheduled increase in utility rates for the fiscal year of 2022-2023,” said Brooks. After a few silent moments, Parker asked if there was a second. Taylor Dowling seconded the motion.
Before the mayor could ask for discussion, Daniel Winters spoke up, “I think it’s important to note that while nobody wants to see an increase, there is definitely an increase in operating costs for the city. We’re going to experience the same rates of inflation that all other industries are experiencing as well. And getting this budget to balance in the beginning has been a struggle as we’ve factored in various increases and things, and putting a pause on that will very likely set us back.” (See the budget discussion report in the May 20 Alva Review-Courier.)
Randy Stelling said he’d been talking with Melvin Evans who heads the city street department, noting they attend the same church. Stelling said, “There’s some stuff (street materials) there’s been a 100 percent increase like the base material they used out here (pointing to 4th Street). Concrete’s gone up. The list is great. Cities are affected probably worse.
“I hate to see rate increases too, but taking care of our infrastructure and what we’ve got and what we’re going ahead with is paramount to trying to balance stuff. We’re forced to pay the higher costs for asphalt, and oil and chips and seal. Our street money won’t go as far.”
Dowling spoke about the negative job market in Oklahoma saying “the jobs that lack filling are low income jobs. It is excessively hard, and I know this because my ward is one of the poorest wards in this city, and I understand how difficult it is to move here and have that base low income.
“Everybody needs water, and you can’t live in a house that doesn’t (have it). If you’re struggling to provide formula or things for your children that water utility increase is drastic, because you’re right, it is increased for everyone. That 8.3 (percent) is on goods that you purchase and so now your utilities will also increase by that much.”
He concluded, “I’d say it’s important to consider it because there’s no greater time than there is now. I mean you could never have predicted how high it would be now based off of when it was originally instituted. It’s astronomical, and the signs indicate it’s not going to get better.”
“Which is all the more pressing that we cannot take a step back,” said Winters.
City Business Manager Angelica Brady said, “I would like to say that I feel we should be cautious when we talk about pausing that CPI (consumer price index on which the rate increase is based) because the CPI increase was put in place for a reason.
“When I started with the city in 2016, we were losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in our utility authority. We weren’t able to provide competitive wages of any kind. We’re starting to get to the point where we can begin to keep or retain employees because our wages and benefits are getting better. If we don’t do the things we need to do, sometimes those choices are hard. However, we will have infrastructure that we can’t repair. We will have no dollars to fix a water leak or a sewer leak that happens. We have infrastructure that is from 90 to 100 years old in some places.
“When we put these rates in place, it was to make sure we were providing for the future which is something we haven’t done well in the past. In my opinion, I just feel like we should use caution when we talk about pausing those increases. They are there for a reason. They are hard, and sometimes we have to make hard choices in order to make our city a better place going forward.”
Dowling then inquired about a “very large grant” that was out to support water infrastructure. Mayor Parker said the city applied for one but has not received it. “The state did not allocate for the entire state as much as we requested for our city,” he said.
Parker said they needed to get back on the topic of the agenda item. “I think everybody came to this meeting with an idea of how they are going to vote on this and nobody is taking it lightly. I know it’s a big issue, and we could sit here and talk back and forth for the next 20 minutes about how conflicted we are with regard to the burden the people in our community face along with the inevitable burdens we face as a municipality to fund the things that our people need.”
The mayor called for a roll call vote. As common practice, the first two people called are those who made the motion and second. Brooks voted no. Then Dowling voted no.
Sadie Bier was called next, and she appeared confused. Then Stelling held up his hand for attention. Mayor Parker started to clarify, “A no vote …”
Dowling asked, “Can I retract my statement?”
There was laughter, and Brooks asked for clarification.
Parker said, “We’re voting yes to pause it.”
“Sorry, I thought we were voting to increase. I got off, too,” said Brooks.
The mayor asked for advice from City Attorney Rick Cunningham who stated, “We’ve got votes on the table. Go ahead and do your vote. If (the motion) passes by a majority. it doesn’t make any difference what the no votes are.”
Stelling asked, “Just to clarify it. A no vote is against the motion?” He was told yes.
Voting continued with everyone voting no, and the motion failed. “It would have been the same outcome,” Parker said of the confused voting.
City utility rates will increase by 8.3 percent beginning July 1 as set forth in a council resolution passed in 2017.
Other Council Action
On May 11, the Alva Recreation Complex (ARC) Board voted to support a transition of the board to the Alva Parks and Recreation Commission. In Monday’s meeting, the council discussed requesting an ordinance to put that transition into effect. The new commission would take responsibility for the ARC, city parks, the swimming pool and future recreation venues. Dowling asked if there would be any changes in who served on the board, and the mayor said it would stay the same.
Gail Swallow who is the council representative on the board said, “They understand and are willing. They know it means sharing funds.” The ARC benefits from a one-half percent city sales tax. Bier made a motion, seconded by Swallow, to request an ordinance to that effect. The motion passed unanimously.
Several amendments were made to this year’s budgets. Two were for the library for state library funds and ARPA funds received. Another was the donation from the Cory Washburn family for the swimming pool. The airport budget was amended on both the revenue and expense sides to account for added fuel purchases and fuel sales. A continuing education item was added to the library budget.
The council voted to approve Deputy Clerk Heather Bonham, who was present to record the minutes, as the authorized agent for the OkMRF Retirement Plan. Brady was the previous signee, but she is leaving at the end of May.
Melinda Barton’s appointment as the Tourism Tax Commission representative to the Alva Arena Authority was approved with Dowling and Brooks abstaining.
The council also approved minutes of the April 18 meeting, revised minutes of the May 10 meeting, claims of $260,107.38, payroll expenses of $184,593.41 and an ASAP Energy invoice for $33,453.57 for aviation fuel.
Action Following Executive Session
Following an executive session, the council took two actions. Winters made a motion, seconded by Bier, to withdraw the $750 per month pay associated with Parker’s appointment as interim personnel manager. The motion carried with Dowling abstaining. The pay for Fire Chief Bryan Miller as interim operations manager was not affected.
Winters stumbled when making the next motion, causing much laughter. He tried straightening it out, and Mayor Parker restated it more clearly with Winters agreeing to that wording. The motion was for the mayor to negotiate a three-month agreement with Drew Cunningham to act as interim city attorney starting July 1. In the roll call voting, Dowling again abstained, and the motion carried 7-0.
Meeting as the Alva Utility Authority, the same members approved minutes of the April 18 meeting, claims of $103,076.81 and payroll expenses of $37,717.56.
The Alva Economic Development Authority (AEDA) then met, approving minutes from April, claims of 55,333.04 and payroll expenses of $14,341.69.
Stelling made a motion, seconded by Bier, to pay the NWOSU Foundation invoice for the 2022 Spring Semester Alva Incentive Scholarships for $244,284.00. The motion passed 6-1. Dowling abstained and Brooks voted no.
A video of the meeting may be viewed at http://www.AlvaReviewCourier.com.