The following is the first in a series of submissions from Terry Arps, a member of the Luther Town Board of Trustees, about raising utility rates for the Town of Luther. Rate hikes are proposed for water, sewer and trash services.
By Terry Arps
Many residents may not know / realize that Public Works operate as a separate, though not totally independent, part of town government. They have their own financial accounts, take in their own revenues and, to a great extent, are supposed to pay their own expenses.
That’s how it’s supposed to work. As I attended Town Board meetings for several months prior to becoming a Board member, I noticed something odd. Every month the Town was having to transfer $3,000-6,000 from the general fund to the LPWA accounts to keep LPWA running. I dug a little deeper and discovered two big problems.
First, the Public Works revenues were not paying for even the day to day operations of the department. Second, there were a lot of repairs being made, almost daily, that were adding to the operating costs.
When I looked at the costs versus revenue disparity, one thing became immediately clear: Luther, which has some of the LOWEST water/sewer/trash rates of any town in the state, had not kept up with inflation for years, so the daily activities of the department cost more than people were paying for the services.
The second, even bigger, problem has to do with the high number of repairs. Why so many? Apparently, the Town water and sewer infrastructure was installed / last updated some 40 yrs ago. Its useful life expectancy is ending, thus the continual repairs to keep fragile systems flowing. Many residents have experienced problems and most are a result of the aged systems which are not going to get better by themselves. The solutions are:
Number one, bring the service rates in line with the rest of Oklahoma and get LPWA out of the red for regular operations.
Number two, prepare to have the systems (water/sewer) replaced some time in the near future. Where will the money come from for that? It will almost certainly have to come from a grant from some source to help the city get over the hump. Can’t the town pay for it themselves? Only by approaching or achieving bankruptcy in the process. Also, many grants are given on the basis of the Town matching the funds granted. No funds; no grant. So it is essential that the Town keep some assets available to compete successfully for the help we need.
Let me at this point confirm and assure you that the Board, primarily Mayor White is working herself to a frazzle searching for the help we need. I’ve seen what she’s up to and you could not pay me enough to take on the worry and do what she is doing for the town (without pay).
Everybody hates increasing rates and tax increases, but the alternatives are unspeakable. A failure to get ahead of this could result in a major or total breakdown of the systems. Yikes! You and I can both imagine what that might look like*. So, to begin the recovery process, please support / tolerate the small rate increases that will be before the board in an upcoming meeting.
*No flushing toilets, no running water.