Sewer and water rates in Russell will increase beginning July 1 as a result of action taken Tuesday by the city council.
The water-rate increases will affect Bellefonte and Russell, with sewer rates only applying to downtown Russell.
Russell residents will see water rates rise from $16 to $18 for the minimum usage of 1,000 gallons. Bellefonte residents’ minimum bills will go from $16.50 to $18.50.
Sewer rates for downtown Russell will be $14 for minimum usage of up to 1,000 gallons and $3.25 per additional 1,000 gallons, up from $12 and $3, respectively.
The sewer-rate increase and contract approvals passed unanimously. Council members Esther “Sissy” Shaffer and Ron Simpson both voted “no” on the water-rate increases.
The Russell Utility Department struggled financially in the past year, as was evident in the auditor’s report brought before the council by Roger Conley. In his report, Conley said the city’s finances seemed to be in good order, except for the utility fund borrowing $227,000 from the general fund to avoid a deficit, ending the year with $83,000.
“I’ve audited a lot of cities and I haven’t ever seen where a government has to cover its utility department. It’s usually the other way around,” he said.
Packaged with the rate increases were contracts for the cities of Flatwoods and Raceland for purchasing water from Russell after July 1.
Russell City Clerk Joy Conley said Tuesday the two cities have not bought water from Russell under a contract since the early part of 1987.
Council members Dave Kersey and Shaffer were particularly adamant about getting Flatwoods and Raceland to sign.
“We need these contracts in order to justify and compensate for the rate increases we’re proposing,” Kersey said.
If the cities choose to sign the contract, they can buy Russell water for $2 per 1,000 gallons. If they opt not to sign, they will pay $2.50 per 1,000 gallons.
At the end of the financial reports, Shaffer spoke up about her motion made last week to not increase the salaries for the incoming council.
Shaffer said while she still agreed the entire council should not see a pay raise, she suggested the mayor’s salary be increased by $200 each month.
“Not many cities have the privilege of having a full-time mayor (Bill Hopkins) like we do,” she said. “I don’t even want to know how much time he spends in meetings each week that we (regular council members) don’t have to go to. I think he deserves it.”
Though the increase is not valid until January, Shaffer reminded the council Hopkins is running unopposed for re-election this year.
The council unanimously voted to approved the measure, raising the overall mayoral salary to $2,000 per month.
LANA BELLAMY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2653.