BERRYVILLE -- Mayor Tim McKinney is warning Berryville residents to expect their water rates to increase this year.
During his annual state of the city address, delivered Tuesday night, the mayor said he could see "no other alternative" after the city was forced to relocate water lines by the widening of Highway 62 on either side of Berryville.
The pipes had apparently been installed years ago on highway rights-of-way, rather than private property. McKinney said the work, which cost approximately $750,000, had depleted reserves to the point that the city could no longer afford needed improvements.
The mayor did not say how substantial the tentative increase might be, remarking only that the city needed to "get back on solid ground financially ... to improve and maintain our water distribution system."
"No one likes a rate increase," he added, "but in order to be responsible managers, I feel like there is no other choice."
In addition to the rate increase, the mayor is seeking an extension of the half-cent sales tax approved by Berryville voters last year.
In 2012, the tax financed the purchase and outfitting of three new police cars and two new fire trucks -- at a total cost of more than half-a-million dollars.
On Tuesday, the mayor said he hoped council members would ask voters to renew that tax for another two years, primarily to help fund future street improvements.
Among the improve-ments the mayor said were "badly needed" were the installation of sidewalks on and widening of East College Street and the completion of a loop on the west and north sides of the city to relieve congestion and encourage commercial development.
Also Tuesday, the mayor told council members that the ongoing study of the city's wastewater treatment plant was nearly complete and had already produced results.
He said workers had been able in recent weeks to reduce phosphorus output to a level "10 times lower" than mandated by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality.
This has been an ongoing struggle for the city since last year, when the ADEQ began enforcing stricter limits at the plant. Since then, chemical and waste hauling costs at the plant have skyrocketed, and the city has twice violated the limits set forth by its environmental permit.
On Tuesday, the mayor said workers had been able to exceed the ADEQ standards using "virtually no chemicals."
"When taken into consideration that we were spending up to $29,000 per month on chemicals before we began this process," he said, "I think it is a remarkable accomplishment."
After the study is concluded, council members will have to decide whether to sign a long-term management contract with CH2MHill or to continue operating the plant independently.
Other goals that the mayor outlined in Tuesday's address include:
* Completing a long-range plan to extend the municipal water system. "This plan will be designed to meet our future growth," McKinney said, "and also give water service to areas near our city limits that have expressed an interest in getting city water."
* Requesting an ISO inspection to possibly lower insurance rates for homeowners in the city.
* Pass a new animal control ordinance to "emphasize public safety and the humane treatment of animals, reward responsible owners, and give the city tools to deal with irresponsible animal owners."
City Council will meet again at 6 p.m. on March 5 at Berryville City Hall, located at 305 E. Madison St. For more information, call 870-423-4414.