Benton Utilities to amend water installation fees

Benton Public Utilities Commission met Monday night to amend the customer service rules and regulations ordinance.

This ordinance was discussed previously at the commission's May 5 and was brought to the City Council on May 12 to be heard on its first reading.

The ordinance would raise the fees associated with installing water meters. However, the council was unwilling to approve a fee increase at that time.

Currently the fee is $200 to install the meters but the cost of the meters themselves is $400. The PUC's desire is to increase the fee so that the commission doesn't lose money on the new meters.
Additionally, the ordinance would allow Benton Utilities to become responsible for making street cuts and digging the trenches where water lines will be placed. Currently, contractors are responsible for the street cuts and the PUC feels as though too many individuals are involved in the process, slowing down installation.

Some alderman are concerned that the new ordinance would charge customers the same amount to install a new water meter when a street cut and water line installation was necessary and when all that was needed was for Benton Utilities to connect the meters in new subdivisions.

After further meetings and discussion, Terry McKinney, general manager of Benton Utilities, recommended that the PUC amend the ordinance to add a section that would apply only to new subdivisions where the meter installation connection fee would be only $500.

This change was approved by the PUC and will be presented by Alderman James Herzfeld, the council's liaison to the PUC, at the next council meeting on June 9. Since the ordinance has been amended, the process of approving it will begin again and the ordinance will be heard on its first reading at the meeting.
Mayor David Mattingly was present at the meeting to discuss the status of the Alcoa Road project in relation to utility relocation and the availability of highway trust fund money for reimbursement.
Representatives from Metroplan also were present.

At the previous PUC meeting, the mayor was present to inform the PUC that Benton would be taking over as lead agency of the project. By becoming lead agency, the mayor was informed by Metroplan that there was the potential to reimburse Benton Public Utilities for utility relocation.
At the time the mayor could not promise that the funding would be available but noted that the city has "to be the lead agency to get anything done."

McKinney stated at this time that he believed Benton Utilities could complete the utility portion of the project by next year, saying, "If everything goes as it should we will be done by next April when they need it."
However, members of the PUC are still concerned with when reimbursement will occur for the project once utility relocation begins.

Metroplan representatives stated that because Congress has not passed a new transportation bill and because funds are not sufficient in the federal transportation trust fund that full and timely reimbursement for projects at this time are unlikely. They did state that full reimbursement would occur but that the PUC may have to carry the costs of construction longer than usual.

Usually reimbursement occurs quickly after requests are submitted and in the full amount; however, at this time, reimbursements may take much longer and it is unlikely that they will be returned in their full amount immediately. It is not known when or how much money will be returned at this time.
The mayor stated, "The question becomes what do you reserve or not for 2015." If the PUC chooses to go ahead with relocating the utilities for the Alcoa Road project, it could need to absorb the fees associated with the project for upwards of a year.

Commission member Jim Martin said, "It is a scary endeavor, sir."

No decision was made regarding the Alcoa Road project.

Additionally, the commission agreed to seek an agreement with Retail Connection, developers of the Hurricane Creek Village Shopping Center, where the new Kroger store will be located for the purpose of funding a new gravity line.

Currently there is a pump station on the line that will be used by Retail Connection that pumps to Hurricane Lake. However, this station is undersized for the new construction.

McKinney stated that he had a draft of an agreement he would like to give to Retail Connection that would state that Benton Utilities would build a new gravity sewer line to service the area, which is estimated to cost about $300,000, including engineering. The agreement would require Retail Connection to pay at least $150,000 for the line.

If this agreement is signed, Benton Utilities would be able to start constructing the line.
McKinney stated that Retail Connection has indicated that it wants to break ground as soon as possible, potentially within the next 30 days. He said, "We need to get started to be ready for them."
The PUC agreed to let McKinney seek an agreement with Retail Connection for the construction of the gravity line.

The commission also approved the purchase of a new tractor for the wastewater department. According to Randy Hawkins, assistant manager of the department, the department has miles of sewer rights of way that need to be mowed, much of which must be done in low lying areas.

The department had been using a loner tractor from the street department, but returned it after finding it unsatisfactory due to hydraulic problems.

The tractor that will be purchased is a John Deere 5055E, four-wheel drive tractor. It will be bought using the state's purchasing agreement.

Buff stated, "It is a good deal." There is an 18 percent discount on the tractor. Additionally the PUC approved the purchase on a mower to go with the tractor with a 23 percent discount. The total cost is $24,868.76.