It’s a bit overdue, said Ozark City Administrator Steve Childers, but monthly water rates for customers on the Finley Valley Water System will increase Feb. 1, 2019.
“The Finley Valley Water System is an outside water system that was purchase by the city of Ozark,” Childers said. “Rates were governed by the Public Service Commission this entire time. The city filed to take over the entire system and it is now owned by the city. “
The city of Ozark has operated the Finley Valley water system for 23 years after acquiring it from the developer in 1995, according to information provided by the city. Ozark financed the purchase through its Public Funding Commission. Because of that, the Missouri Public Service Commission governed the rates, Childers said. The PSC recently approved the transfer of ownership to the city. Finley Valley customers reside outside Ozark city limits.
“We need to adjust those rates to be equal to the rates being paid by other outside water systems,” Childers said, “which is one and a half times of that inside the city.”
The Finley Valley subdivision sits just southwest of the Ozarks Technical Community College Richwood Valley Campus off Highway 14. It is situated between the Nixa and Ozark city limits.
Ward 3 Alderman Jason Shaffer offered an amendment to the resolution up for approval Nov. 19, that would increase the water rates to a base rate of $18.75 for the first 1,000 gallons. City residents pay $12.50; Finley Valley customers were paying less than the city rate at $6.68 for the first 2,000 gallons.
Shaffer’s amendment would have moved Finley Valley water customers up to the outside city limits rate over a span of two years.
“As of June 1, 2019 the rate would increase to inside city rate with second increase on June 1, 2020 to outside the city rate.”
But Shaffer’s motion failed to get a second.
Ward 1 Alderman Nathan Posten offered an alternative amendment to approve the rate increase, but delay the effective date until Feb. 1.
“Nineteen months is too long to stretch that out,” Posten said. But he also said he didn’t want to the hike to come during the holidays.
The board of aldermen approved that change 5-1, with Shaffer dissenting.
Childers said a notice of increase will be included in the next water bills and that letters would be sent to Finley Valley customers.
“The average family usage is approximately 5,000 gallons per month, and when the new rates go into effect this would mean the average family in Finley Valley now pays $15.47 per month,” Childers said in an email response for this report. “With new rates (the family) would pay $38.55 per month for an average monthly increase of $23.08.”
One customer attending the meeting Nov. 19 asked to address the board about the rate increase, but he was denied that opportunity.
Childers said the rate increase is a board decision and does not require a public hearing. Mayor Rick Gardner concurred.
“There is no way for you to have a say in this,” Gardner said. “That’s just the way it is. If you’re not in the city, you don’t have representation with the aldermen. There is no provision for that.”
The decision impacts more than 200 residents. Ozark reportedly collected about $39,000 in water fees from 228 connections in Finley Valley in 2017.
Some Finley Valley water customers did address the Ozark Board of Aldermen at a previous hearing on Nov. 5. Those residents shared that they were concerned with their water rates rising from $6.68 for the first 2,000 gallons to $18.75 for the first 1,000 gallons of water used per month.
“This is a huge expense for us to take overnight,” Finley Valley resident Dennis Nelson told the board of aldermen.
In 2011, the city of Ozark conducted a study of the municipal water system through an outside engineering firm. The study resulted in a plan for $12 million worth of recommended improvement projects, financed mostly through water rate increases, except for customers in the Finley Valley subdivision.