Tim Wiggins

Resident Tim Wiggins urged the council to not raise the sewer rates and tap fees.

LIVE OAK — An increase on sewage rates and tap fees in the city went down the drain at last week’s council meeting.

The council, by a 3-2 vote, declined to increase the sewage rates on city residents. Don Allen, Robintina Reed and Bennie Thomas voted against the increase, while David Burch and Council President Mark Stewart voted for the change.

The proposed increase followed a recommendation from the Florida Rural Water Association, the city’s consultant that made a presentation at the council’s special called September meeting.

“Their study determined we were approximately 20 percent below where we should be,” Williams said, adding it called for a 6 percent annual increase for the next three years.

“We’re proposing a little less than their full recommendation and also we’re attempting to be reasonable with the phasing process as compared to attacking it all at once.”

Williams and Finance Director Joanne Luther said the increase was necessary.

Luther told the council that the city has about 11 years of debt remaining from the first phase of rehabilitation on its sewage plant and the second phase improvements that enabled reuse, which costs more than $1 million annually. The city is about nine years into the 20-year loan, Luther said.

“It’s an agreement of the debt that we ensure that our rates are sufficient to cover our costs and our debt,” she said. “We’ve got to pay the bills.”

Allen asked if the budget passed in September included the rate increases. Luther said it did not because the FRWA’s study hadn’t been presented to the city at that time.

The proposed increase for residential use up to the first 2,000 gallons was $1.11 per month. For commercial use, the proposed sewer increase started at $5.09 per month for Commercial I and $3.13 for Commercial II.

Resident Tim Wiggins, though, encouraged the council to disregard the recommendation and not place the increase on the residents.

“It’s true, some of them have a legitimate issue and to increase the (fees) would be unfair,” he said.

Wiggins added the proposed tap fee increase would be “unfair” to him, noting he asked the city to add sewer capabilities on Anna Avenue last year and by increasing the rates, he would have to pay more if the city does provide the service to that area.

The proposed water tap fee increase started at $38 in the city and the sewer tap increase began at $28.45 in the city.

“If you go ahead and raise the rates, that’s going to be an unfair financial burden to me,” he said. “When I wanted to get a sewer tap last year, couldn’t get it. You guys may vote to increase that rate. That’s unfair.”

Hale Park housing development

The council unanimously approved Williams and City Attorney Fred Koberlein to negotiate an agreement to convey 4.73 acres of property in the northern portion of John Hale Park to the Live Oak Housing Authority for the development of affordable housing.

The project was first discussed in March 2017 and the housing authority and its developers are facing a Nov. 4 deadline to submit the application on the project for tax credits and need the ownership of the land before then.

Williams suggested the agreement would likely include a three-year reverter clause to protect the public asset in the case the development stalled.

When asked by Allen about the project, Williams said it would be at least 60 units during two phases.

“We want to make it attractive but at the same time we want to maximize the space,” he said.

Clerk receives a raise

The council also unanimously agreed to provide City Clerk John Gill a raise.

Gill, who has served as the city clerk for nine years, has not received a merit raise since serving in that position like other city employees have received.

The only pay increases afforded Gill have been cost of living adjustments.

The council approved an ordinance that raised Gill’s salary from $51,188.80 to $56,000.

Burch asked if the raise followed a recommendation from the Florida League of Cities.

Gill said it did fall in line with the League of Cities' salary survey for that position and the size of the municipality.

“The next time he were to incur a raise, it would be because of council action again,” Stewart said, adding the raise figures out to about 1 percent per year.

Jamie Wachter is the editor of the Suwannee Democrat, Jasper News and Mayo Free Press.

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