Joe Gray

Grove Sun

The 2011-2012 budget for the City of Grove, and the Grove Municipal Services authority places a major emphasis on infrastructure upgrades and replacements, and will also bring some new fees for residents along with it.

One item which has raised some questions is a plan to replace the current water meters with new ones that will provided automated meter reading service. They also come with an initial price tag of $2 million. “The million dollar question here in Grove, one of the biggest problems we have with GMSA, is identifying the 50 percent unaccounted for water in our system,” City Manager Bruce Johnson said. “Automated meter reading is just one of those areas we’re going to use to figure out where that water is going. You can either just take the shotgun approach and just go out there and fix miscellaneous lines and hopes it fixes the problem, or you can actually collect the data and figure out where the problem is and put your money towards it in a little more logical and appropriate fashion.

This will help us take readings all at once so we can figure out what the true percentage of loss is. Right now we’re taking a guesstimate.” It’s been estimated that the current water meters in the city have been under-reading consumer usage by an average of 15 percent for an extended period of time. Many of the meters currently in use date back to the 1950’s. New requirements from the Department of Environmental Quality are also requiring the city to upgrade their water plant, which currently operates at capacity in the summer months. “Part of our plan to make sure we meet (DEQ) Phase II requirements is going to require flushing lines,” Johnson said. “Flushing lines means you need more water.”

The city has been reluctant to raise fees to customers during the economic downturn, but Johnson says the city has to raise some fees in order to keep up services. “The primary concern is making sure we have quality infrastructure for the next two, three generations for the citizens of Grove,” Johnson said. “The GMSA budget has been supported primarily by two means. One is an impact fee that developers pay when they come in here and connect to our water, sewer, and natural gas lines. That can be as much as $3,000 per average connection.

But because of the decline in the amount of new construction that we have, that amount has gone from nearly $350,000 per year to $150,000 per year. With the amount of infrastructure we have, $150,000 doesn’t go a very long way. “ “The other thing we supported ourselves on was the remaining bond money that was passed in 2004, that money has now been all used. So in order to have a work crew that does go out there and do the replacement of the water, and the natural gas and sewer lines, we’re going to have to be able to go out there and buy them materials, and that’s going to need to be done through a rate increase.” With the economy still struggling, Johnson says the city is limited in what it can do without an increase in sales tax revenue, which the city can’t control. “The main point is the sales tax is going to stay stagnant, stay flat,” Johnson said. “No COLAs or merit increases for our employees. For the city and GMSA, we are looking at some new fees, fire run insurance claims, so when we use our manpower and go out and have services rendered, we cover our costs.

Next is going to be a street lighting fee, that’s been a big topic of conversation. We’ll be looking at implementing that to help cover our expenses of lighting the streets, which is about $70,000 a year. We’ve looked at these fees each and every year, but have decided not to implement them because of the economy. But at this point in time, we’re going to have to either increase fees or let go personnel. If you do that, that’s fewer programs and services you can provide.”