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City Council, Water board discuss proposed water-department building, utility-billing office

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012 3:21 p.m. CDT • Updated: Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012 3:26 p.m. CDT
Caption
OST photo by AMY HANSEN This is a view of Osceola's water treatment plant on West Clay Street.

The purpose of the joint Osceola City Council and Osceola Water Board of Trustees meeting was to make sure everybody was on the same page.

On the meeting's agenda was the proposed building for the water department and proposed utility-billing office.

"One of the things in this whole process is, you know, we originally were going to build a building out at the treatment plant because we need more storage, said Bill Freeman, chairman of Osceola Water Board. "The building over here isn't big enough. We've looked at a lot of different options."

Freeman added, "Obviously, it wouldn't make sense to build it out (of town) if you're going to have a utility office, it wouldn't make sense to build it out at the treatment plant out away from the public. But, on the other side, we need facilities to store equipment, and what have you. So, there's a lot of evaluation that needs to go into this. My opinion is I didn't want to get the cart ahead of the horse and make sure we have an open discussion about it."

The city's water plant is on West Clay Street. The distribution shop is on Ayers Street.

Council woman Sarah Truitt clarified the topic of discussion was the potential issue of separating the water utility from the city's responsibility. She then asked about the benefits of the scenario.

The water board is a separate entity from the city, but it pays a portion of the salaries at city hall because the utility billing is done there. An option is to move the utility billing office out of city hall and into a water-department building.

"It's designed to be separate, if you look at the state regulations, it's all designed to be separate," Freeman said. "My personal opinion, if you want it, I would hope it would create a little bit better relations … just difficulty with the finances and understanding what's going with things and trying to get answers."

Efficiency

He added, the overall purpose is to serve the public better and make good business decisions.

Councilman David Walkup said he's interested in seeing facts and figures.

"If it's best for Osceola," he said, "if it's something that saves our people money, if it runs more efficiently, I think we need to take a look at it. If it doesn't, I'm not interested."

Councilman Glenn Schaff said he's checked with other towns the size of Osceola that have separate utilities with a water board that handles the water issues, and city council that deals with city issues.

"I've talked to several of them," he said, "and they say it works really good that way."

Alisha Crawford, member of Osceola Water Board, said she's researched the issue, as well, and talked to officials in Oskaloosa and Creston.

"They offer it that way. They love it," she said. "Very efficient. It serves their citizens. I think it would serve our citizens and our budget. We were talking at our last meeting, and our budget, we have the budget for the building. So, we talked about, as we discussed earlier, do we build something new or is there something here in town that may be existing that we could put those monies into, revitalize it, have storage for Brandon (Patterson)."

Councilman Dr. George Fotiadis said he wanted to clarify the discussion taking place. He said, right now, the city has a combined utility bill and and an option is to take the water revenue off and bill separately. There is also a need for a facility at the water department and a water department general office and storage, too.

The city council and water board agreed the potential utility-billing office should be in an area that is accessible to the public and possibly in the downtown area.

One billl

The intent is for utility customers to continue to receive one utility bill for water, sewer and garbage.

Osceola Water Superintendent Brandon Patterson said, in the towns he's researched, typically, a check is just written to the city monthly. It would still be one bill.

According to Freeman, this is in the beginning phase and many details need to be worked out.

Later in the meeting, Freeman said, "Our goal the last couple years has been focused on efficiency and cost savings, and obviously, that would be a focus on this, as well. We do have the building budgeted. So, if this is going to come about, it's an opportune time to look, and if the opportunity is there, to certainly take advantage of it. If the opportunity's not there, then, patience is golden."

Mayor Fred Diehl asked Freeman if it would be a good idea to bill the utilities together, as it is now.

"From a consumer standpoint, it'd be foolish to do it any other way," Freeman replied.

It was decided the water board would do an analysis and study and come back to the city council with a recommendation on the proceedings.

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