The Branson Board of Aldermen approved the first reading of an ordinance to increase the city’s water and sewer rates.
Utility department staff recommended to the board increases of 12% in the water rate and 10% in the sewer rate. Despite the significant percentage increases, the actual cost to the average Branson resident will average about $4.50 a month.
The changes will go into effect for the bills starting next year.
“This is to maintain adequate revenues for the maintenance of the city’s water and sewer resources,” Utilities Director Kendall Powell said. “If approved, the proposed water and sewer increases will come into effect in the first billing period of 2023.”
Mayor Larry Milton said when he was an alderman, he voted against increases, because the passage of the tourism tax was promoted by counting residents they wouldn’t see increases.
“The tourists are the ones who drive the highest demand for water and sewer,” Milton said. “You have a town with 10 million visitors, and it’s not fair to ask 12,500 residents to accept that bill. I believe that, and I’ve seen it in action.”
Milton said the situation is different now.
“It’s no secret what inflation has done,” Milton said. “Cost of labour, cost of chemicals, cost of fuel. Everything has gone up.”
Powell noted during a public meeting on Oct. 25, chlorine jumped 30 to 90%, electricity had an 8% increase and the utility department is a heavy electric user because of the pumps on the water system.
Milton said the finance committee had a discussion about this matter and everyone involved felt it was good stewardship of taxpayer dollars by allowing the rate increases versus using city saving balances.
“If you keep using your savings, there’s going to be a day when you’re going to go through that money,” Milton said. “It was a very healthy discussion with the finance committee, and the committee unanimously recommended to this board to take this action. I know it’s never comfortable for any elected official to increase rates, however, in this case, in exchange for the modest increase, this board will be acting fiscally responsible and we will be held accountable for that.”
Alderman Clay Cooper said none of the aldermen want to raise fees, but with all the repairs needing to be done to the system, a small increase of a few dollars a month is a wise move in the short term.
Powell had explained at the public hearing to the board various repair and rehab projects which had been delayed for budget and COVID-19 related reasons were starting to become critical challenges to his department.
“Keep in mind that in 2020 and 2021 we postponed capital [improvements and replacements] due to the uncertainty of COVID, and we didn’t know where they would go,” Powell said. “We picked up some of those in 2022, but we’re working hard to get capital caught up and we spread some of those items to 2023.”
Powell also noted the city’s increased costs for water treatment because of a change from well water to surface water which makes comparisons of rates to surrounding communities difficult.
“You have to compare apples to apples, because some cities use well water, which costs less to treat and is more cost effective,” Powell said. “However, it’s not sustainable for the environment, so we pursued in the ’90s surface water drinking options and constructed the Meadows Water Treatment Plant which draws water out of Lake Taneycomo.
“It takes more cost to operate, however, when we put the plant online, we saw the water table start to rise and it benefited the community. Plus, it set us up with a good, sustainable water source for the city of Branson.”
The increase was approved 5-1, with Alderman Chuck Rodriguez voting against the measure. Second reading should take place at the Tuesday, Nov. 22 regular meeting of the Board of Aldermen.