City plans to discuss water rates, downtown façades
Fairfield City Hall will be a busy place in the next few days as it hosts a meeting Wednesday to discuss upcoming water rate increases and a meeting Thursday to discuss façade improvements to buildings around the square.
The utility rates will be discussed during a joint meeting of two Fairfield City Council committees – the ways and means committee and the water and sewer utilities committee. They will meet in the council chambers at 3 p.m. to review the proposed water rate increases.
Fairfield City Administrator Kevin Flanagan said the council could vote on the first reading of the water rate ordinance as early as Monday.
In June, the utility committee listened to a presentation on the city’s sewer infrastructure by members of McClure Engineering. In order to make the necessary repairs to the sewer infrastructure to stop the sewer overflows, the city would need to spend about $46 million in the next 17 years.
McClure Engineering recommended the city adopt a step plan whereby it would increase sewer rates substantially in the first year and then gradually reduce the rate of the increases.
At the same time, the city’s water mains also are in need of repair, although that project will be considerably less expensive than the sewer project. The city will need to raise $6.2 million in the next seven years to cover capital improvements to its water system.
To do that, McClure engineering recommended hiking water rates 15 percent every year for four years.
McClure Engineering looked into how the rate increases would affect the average resident in Fairfield. The average residential household in the city uses 4,000 gallons of water per month and has a bill of about $70. That bill would rise to $83 per month under the firm’s proposal, and by 2019 the average customer could expect to pay about $127 per month in water and sewer charges.
Flanagan said the council must confront the fact the water utility is not generating enough revenue to remain a viable public enterprise.
“It’s not even breaking even,” he said.
He said the city is constantly making small repairs to its water system, but what it really needs is the kind of capital improvement project McClure is suggesting.
“Our water conveyance system is dying the death of a thousand cuts,” Flanagan said. “We will turn that around over time, and we will do it using local contractors.”
The council will hold a meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday in the council chambers to discuss improving the façades on the downtown buildings facing Central Park. The city will apply for a Community Development Block Grant this winter, which could give downtown business collectively up to $500,000 to enhance their storefronts. The application is due Jan. 31, and the city will know whether it has received the grant two or three months later.
The CDBG money comes from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. HUD supplies half the money toward grant recipients, and the recipients have to supply the other half.
Flanagan said Fairfield has never applied for CDBG money before. He said he has heard Bloomfield has done good things to its downtown with the CDBG money it has received.
Fairfield Mayor Ed Malloy said the city has talked about this program with downtown businesses for a few years. The city has hired RDG of Des Moines to design a theme for the façade improvements and how certain buildings on Fairfield’s square could be improved.
Malloy said the theme would likely return Fairfield’s square to a historic appearance rather than something more modern. The mayor estimated 15 to 25 buildings could receive new façades if the grant were approved.
The mayor appointed a review committee charged with deciding what buildings would receive top priority for grant assistance.
Thursday’s meeting is geared toward downtown business owners but the public also is invited to attend.