Gordonville residents greeted the news of a sewer rate increase Friday night with exasperation and disbelief, questioning how a barely 3-year-old wastewater treatment facility that is costing them $2.5 million is already in need of replacement parts, repairs and a growing list of maintenance projects.
About 80 residents crowded into the Christ Lutheran Church for a roughly two-hour town hall meeting that left some red-faced with anger and making oaths not to pay. Village leaders, however, said they were still researching remedies and attempting to figure out what is exactly wrong. Litigation against the contractor is pending, as well, with some in attendance insisting the system could not have been built to specifications.
At the meeting's outset, Mayor J.D. King, who assumed the appointed post in April, told residents that a rate increase of about $26 a month is necessary because the city isn't bringing in enough money to pay off the debt incurred when the system was installed.
"We're in desperate need of more money," King said. "I know it ain't a very popular thing with everybody. But our revenue is a lot less than what we pay out."
Under a previous board of trustees, voters approved a ballot issue in 2001 that called for the village accepting a roughly $1.5 million State Revolving Fund low-interest loan. Gordonville also received a $1 million grant and a rural sewer grant of $252,000, according to records at the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.
For reasons that were not clear Friday night -- even the mayor said he wasn't sure -- construction of the facility didn't begin until 2008. That's despite the fact that, according to board of trustee minutes that date back to 2001, a previous board chairman was authorized to enter into a contract with Waters and Associates for the engineering of the sewer project. The minutes say that each of the village's roughly 167 households should see a monthly cost of about $31 a month.
Waters Engineering of Sikeston, Mo., eventually received the contract to design the facility and KJACS Contractors Inc. of Poplar Bluff, Mo., built the system, which routes the wastewater from each resident's septic tank to the facility and its three-cell septic tank, a series of filters and the recirculation and dosing tanks.
The facility's design flow is 64,500 gallons per day and the design sludge production is 12.9 tons per year, according to data provided by the Department of Natural Resources.
Under the state stipulation, the loan was to be repaid quarterly with payments of $21,000 toward the loan plus interest that is slightly above 2 percent, King said. The city also pays a $4,000 bank fee to the lender that facilitates the transaction, he said.
The city is supposed to be collecting about $8,500 to $9,500 a month, King said. But the city isn't collecting that much, he said, and now is about $50,000 behind. Collections generate about $128,400, but almost $200,000 is required to pay off the state as well as pay for maintenance and replacements.
Another point of contention, King said, is that the relatively new system is already seeing several problems, such as motors that were supposed to last nine or 10 years going out. They've already replaced several, at $7,000 apiece, and two are down now, though he said each motor has a backup.
City attorney Stephen Southard said litigation is pending between the contractor and the city, as well as a countersuit. The city has not made its most recent payment to the company because the work isn't finished. Southard said the board could not comment on the lawsuit.
The residents were not happy. Some vowed to not pay the increases, complaining of already seeing utility bills of $100. Others wondered if they could pay off the loan entirely, but they were told each household would have to come up with $9,000 apiece to do so. Some claimed that they were "duped" by previous boards who told them they had no choice but to hook into the system. But 13 households did not hook up to the system, a few who simply declined.
City leaders said state natural resources officials recently met with them and told them they need to raise rates to be able to pay off the loan. Southard said refusing to pay could hurt Gordonville's bond rating.
Renee Bungart with the Department of Natural Resources said that the department has made no specific requirements. The department has, she said, encouraged Gordonville to review revenue and look at operational and maintenance costs to ensure they are bringing in enough money.
The state did perform a routine inspection of the wastewater treatment facility in February and found it to have no significant issues, she said.
Meanwhile, the residents wait and decide how to react to the sewer situation.
"If I've got to pay $100 every time I [use the restroom], I'm going to sell my house and move," one resident said.
248 Albert Lane, Gordonville, MO