ES council reduces sewer connection fee for ECHO Village

Friday, March 29, 2019

By Samantha Jones

The Eureka Springs City Council is showing support for an affordable housing initiative in town.

During public comments Monday night, the council heard from Dan Bell on the construction of ECHO Village. Bell said eight houses are being built, saying he hopes to see people move in by June. The project hit a snag, Bell said, when he learned how much it would cost to hook up water meters.

“I thought it would cost $1,500 or $2,000,” Bell said.

The cost actually came in at $8,800, he said. Bell said that number comprises a $1,600 water connection fee, a $400 meter deposit, a $2,400 sewer connection fee, a $200 application fee and a $4,200 capacity charge. The sewer is already connected, Bell said.

“We put in manholes and we connected it at our expense,” Bell said. “That’s been done since last fall. That $2,400 fee seems a little high for something that’s already been done.”

Bell said he spoke with public works director Dwayne Allen about how to alleviate the cost, and Allen said the council could waive some of the fees at its discretion. Alderwoman Melissa Greene moved to add the item to the agenda and the council agreed to do so.

Greene asked Allen what the council should do, and Allen said it would be best to avoid waiving the capacity fee.

“If you waive that, you’re opening a can of worms,” Allen said. “What we could do legally is with the sewer connection fee.”

Allen suggested reducing the sewer connection fee from $2,400 to $300. Reducing the capacity fee, Allen said, could invite other nonprofits and citizens to request such a waiver.

“The sewer capacity fee is a whole other can of worms,” Allen reiterated.

Alderwoman Mickey Schneider said she’d like to reduce the fees even more, saying she wants to show the city’s support for ECHO Village.

“We could remove the capacity fee and word it in such a way that this is the city’s donation to ECHO Village,” Schneider said. “This is our part of ECHO Village.”

Alderwoman Susan Harman said she couldn’t get behind that.

“I’m not saying it’s not a great cause or anything like that,” Harman said. “You kind of open a can of worms in that the next person comes along and they say, ‘You didn’t treat me the same as you did them, and I’m just as worthy as they were.’ “

The council then voted unanimously to reduce the sewer connection fee from $2,400 to $300.

In other business, Allen reported on the amount of lead and copper in the city’s water supply. Allen said he’s received the sewer report for 2018 and will get it on the city’s website soon.

“On our last run, we were close to the 90th percentile,” Allen said. “We’re very interested to see our next run and what we’re going to come up with. We’ve got to raise the PH to try to make the water less corrosive.”

Allen said a major issue is the old plumbing in town, and Greene asked how the testing process has been going.

“Is it true the state health department told you Eureka Springs tests for lead more frequently than any other city in the state?” Greene asked.

“We were the only ones to request extra testing,” Allen said. “We were the only ones who said we didn’t want to wait every three years.”

Greene said she’s happy Eureka Springs stood in opposition to the state’s initiative to add fluoride to the water supply.

“While some debate whether fluoride causes lead levels to increase or not, isn’t it true our lead has increased since 2016?” Greene asked.

Allen said the amount of lead has increased but he can’t say it’s because of fluoride.

“The health department doesn’t look at that as a possibility, but that was something we were worried about,” Allen said.

Schneider said she’d like the city to send its water bills to the state, saying she’s unhappy with the fluoridation of the city’s water supply.

“Has anybody bothered to talk to the state to end this stupid crap?” Schneider said. “The whole world is ending it, so what does Arkansas do? Has anybody reminded them of this? Has anybody bothered to send bills to the state, since they mandated it?”

“We’re just kind of taking it one step at a time,” Allen said. “Carroll Boone did originally try to fight this.”

Alderman Harry Meyer said the lead levels are likely higher because of old plumbing in the city.

“If there’s corrosion in your pipes at home, it doesn’t matter how pure the water is coming through,” Meyer said. “It’s going to bring the crud. We’re doing pretty darn good, and I don’t think 64 pounds of fluoride in 8 million gallons of water is really the issue.”

Also at the meeting, the council voted to defer the planning commission’s request to reduce the number of members to five, as well as a proposed ordinance revoking Ordinance 2179. The council approved a resolution to purchase body cameras for the police department.

The council’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Monday, April 8, at The Auditorium.

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