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Marengo wastewater fees on the rise

By NICK NARIGON

The City of Marengo will consider raising wastewater sewer rates to help pay for future upgrades to the city’s wastewater system.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources recently informed the city that the wastewater treatment facility is inadequate and is discharging too much ammonia.

Marengo Public Works Director Lonnie Altenhofen told Marengo City Council Nov. 23 they are looking into ways to solve the problem without having to build a new treatment facility.

City engineer Dave Schechinger, Veenstra and Kimm, Inc., turned in a plan of action report to the DNR Nov. 30. The plan informs the DNR what the City of Marengo plans to do to resolve the problem.

“At this point he is trying to pitch them ideas that we are going to get a lot of bang for our buck out of, instead of just putting in a new plant,” Altenhofen said. “Because the reality of it is, we need to deal with some other things here in town before we do that.”

The city is looking at changing the piping at the lagoons, among other things, Altenhofen said. The city has two lagoons and is currently only using one. He said they are looking at using both lagoons.

“It will cost money, obviously, but it won’t be on the same scale as a new plant,” Altenhofen said.

In order to help pay for these future projects, he said the city needs to start raising the wastewater rates for Marengo residents.

Currently, Marengo residents are charged $5.10 a month for a basic sewer rate and then an additional $3 for every 1,000 gallons of water used.

“I’m thinking we start bumping things a little bit now to buffer anything that is coming down,“ Altenhofen said. “I would much rather pay another $10 to $15 a month for the next 10 years rather than all of a sudden pay $80 or $100. That’s just the way I look at it.”

Marengo City Administrator Brent Nelson said it is too early to tell how much it will cost to upgrade the wastewater system, and how much the city needs to increase sewer rates.

The city will look at doing some minor improvements to the system in the spring, that will not require revenue bonds, he said.

“I really have no idea when we would raise the rates. We need to discuss with the engineer where we are at now and where we need to be in the future,” Nelson said.

According to the latest city audit report, Nelson said the city is not charging enough for wastewater treatment.

Currently, the city recovers 94 percent of the cost for wastewater treatment through billing. According to the audit report, Nelson said the city needs to be collecting 110 percent of operating costs through billing.

Because the city’s rates are too low, the city would not be able to bond to pay for wastewater improvements, he said.

“Technically we are not in compliance with where our rates are at for a sewer revenue bond,” Nelson said. “My response to the auditor is we have to look at adjusting rates to come in compliance. It’s not non-compliance to the fact that the Iowa Finance Authority is going to do something, fine us, or anything like that, it’s just the fact they are not where they need to be.”

Marengo City Council member Candi Schmieder said a gradual rate increase will be easier for residents to absorb, rather than doubling rates at one time.

As part of the city’s efforts to improve the wastewater treatment, Altenhofen said the city will do a smoke test this winter.

The smoke will flow through a manhole and will seep through all of the cracks and crevices of that line, he said. The test will show where the storm sewer system is infiltrating into the wastewater system.

“The smoke will come out of the storm boxes, that is how you know. It will also come out of people’s eave spouts and gutters if their houses have an illegal connection. It will come out of people’s basements if they have drains illegally hooked up, that type of thing,” Altenhofen said.

The city is going to make residents with illegal connections fix the problem, he said.

“Be prepared for a lot of very angry people,” Altenhofen said.

YOUTH COUNCIL

Members of the Youth Council brought ideas for bettering the community before the Marengo City Council Nov. 23.

Iowa Valley High School class presidents Jamie Scott, Kailey Kaestner and Megan Kaestner presented a list of ideas that were well-received by the city council.

The Youth Council is a group of Iowa Valley students formed last summer with the goal of getting students involved in community improvement projects.

“We would like to see a new pool with a water slide, a better guard shack and locker rooms,” Scott said. “The parking lines at the library need repainting. We also have some fundraising ideas, like holding a bonfire at the fairgrounds or a local farm to raise money for the auditorium or other school funds.”

Kailey Kaestner said the Youth Council talked about holding a car bash fundraiser, where people can pay to whack an old car with a baseball bat. The fundraisers would raise money for the school or the pool, she said.

The members of the Youth Council would like to see more opportunities in the community for student functions, Kaestner said.

“Students need a better place to go and hang out besides Court. It doesn’t make our town look very nice, in my opinion,” she said. “It would be nice to have a hang out spot, just to go to 11 or something.”

Also, she said it would be nice to have a public access channel that would broadcast Iowa Valley sporting events, concerts, etc.

Megan Kaestner said the Youth Council would like to organize a clothing or food drive for the town. They would also like to organize a community clean up day, where the students could help paint, fix up yards and do other tasks for the elderly people.

Marengo City Council member Candi Schmieder said all of the ideas are good, and the city can help the Youth Council with some of their projects.

“There are some things we could look into, like what would it take to get a local cable channel?” Schmieder said. “We can start checking on some of that stuff to see what we can accomplish.”

PHASE I FINAL PAYMENT

The Marengo City Council approved a payment of $23,000 Nov. 23 to All American Concrete for the release of retainer for phase I of downtown streetscape project.

Marengo City Administrator Brent Nelson said the payment is for the change order to pay for the new park benches.

“This will be the last pay estimate to All American for phase I. The CAT grant has to be done by January, so we are working on that, trying to get it closed out,” Nelson said.

UPDATED December 2, 2009 2:16 PM

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