Gladstone looks at city budget, utility rates

GLADSTONE — While the Gladstone city commissioners made no official budget decisions during a special meeting Monday evening, the commission did review the plans for a number of departments for the next fiscal year and agreed not to raise rates for city electric customers.

The proposed rate increases in the electric department would have led to a $1 per month increase in customer’s ready to serve charge, a fee assessed to each meter that supports maintenance of the electric department facility.

“We have a sufficient fund balance to cover the worst disaster you could imagine (a transformer replacement),” said Mayor Joe Thompson.

No changes were proposed to the amount charged per kilowatt hour, but the elimination of the city’s water heater electric rate was proposed by Mark Polega, the city’s electric and department of public works director. The special rate applies to only 5 percent of city’s electric customers and was specifically for residents who heated their homes with electric-powered water heaters. The water heaters are metered independently of regular electric usage at these residences.

Eliminating the rate would have simplified electric billing, but would have meant a significant rate increase for these electric customers, who are already assessed an additional ready to serve fee for their second electric meters. In total, the change would have meant this 5 percent of customers would, as a whole, generate an additional $1,600 per month for the city.

Commissioners estimated this would mean an additional $20 per month for each of the affected customers — a cost they felt was too high for any one increase.

A $2 readiness to serve increase was also proposed for the city’s wastewater department. While the cost of the readiness to serve fee for wastewater varies based on the size of the line meters, the vast majority of residents in the city would see their rates increase from $8.50 per month to $10.50 per month.

The fee assessed for usage would also increase, rising by 25 cents from $6.15 per 1,000 gallons to $6.40 per 1,000 gallons.

The wastewater increases follow a proposal to increase the cost of water in the city, which was introduced at the last special budget meeting. At that meeting, a $2 readiness to serve increase was presented and it was recommended to increase the cost of water from $5.20 per 1,000 gallons to $5.70 per 1,000, a 50 cent increase.

No action was taken on either water or wastewater rates, and no changes were proposed to solid waste rates Monday.

Representatives from a number of departments outlined their capital plans for the 2018-2019 fiscal year at the meeting. During these proposals, residents in attendance got a taste of which streets would be receiving attention in the coming months.

Two separate funds are responsible for the maintenance and repair of roads in the city, the major street fund, which focuses on main roads and corridors, and the local street fund, which maintains side-streets.

All of the city’s streets — roughly 30 miles of local streets and 17 miles of major streets — are graded using a system called “PASER,” the Pavement Surface Evaluation and Rating System. PASER assigns each street in the city a number from one to 10 based on its condition, with one indicating the pavement has completely failed and 10 being excellent pavement.

In Gladstone, nearly 12 miles of roadway are considered to have failed pavement, with PASER scores between one and three. Another 28 miles of pavement are rated between four and six, meaning the life expectancy of these roads could be extended if they receive surface treatments and other roadwork.

In 2018, the city hopes to tackle five sections of major street. One chip sealing project is planned for North Bluff Drive to M-35 and to the city limits, and a second chip sealing project will extend from Braves Avenue to North Bluff Drive to 29th Street. The ditch will also be regraded along the shoulder of South Hill Road, and engineering and surveying projects will take place on 9th Street and 4th Street.

Local street projects will include chip sealing from 12th Street to Minneapolis Avenue to Railway Avenue, and from Montana Avenue to 14th Street and 18th Street. Engineering is also planned for 15th Street and for a culvert replacement on 17th Street.

“You don’t see as many projects on the local streets, but that’s because there’s just not as much money there,” said Polega, who noted funding for the local street fund primarily comes from transfers from the major street fund, which can transfer up to 50 percent of its balance to the local streets.

Also discussed at Monday’s meeting was the parks and recreation department. While parks are typically not moneymakers for cities, this year has been particularly good for the Gladstone Ski Hill at the John and Melissa Besse Sports Park.

Attendance has been so great at the ski hill that on multiple occasions skiers have been turned away when the park was at capacity. Sometimes these skiers were visitors from great distances, which prompted the department to start taking reservations for the hill to ensure space was available when people came from out of the area.

“As of next weekend, we already have 40 (tickets) sold for Saturday and some sold for Sunday,” Parks and Recreation Director Nicole Sanderson told the commissioners.

Historically, the ski hill has operated in the red, and so far this season is no exception. There is still time left in the season for the hill to close the gap, but at this point, the cost of shutting down the hill and laying off the full-time parks and recreation staff members that operate the hill in the winter would actually cost the city more than keeping the hill in operation.

Operating the park this year has cost the city $53,602 and the hill has made $51,459. It is estimated that laying off the two employees would cost the city more than $15,000 in unemployment compensation and the cost of heating the ski chalet to prevent damage to the building.

It is also possible that those laid off employees would seek other employment, leaving the city to find and train replacements for the summer months.