A plan to renovate the water system in Irondale with a grant and a loan has led one of the city’s aldermen to start a petition to dissolve the city.
“I’m going to continue with the petition unless they stop the project,” Alderman Tom Pulliam told the Daily Journal. “We’ve got people who have trouble paying their bills now,” he said. “Based on the suggested rate schedule, we’re going to see a lot of people having their water shut off for nonpayment because of the increases.
“I’m not against a new water system, but not at this expense. The city cannot afford it.”
On Friday, Pulliam said the board of aldermen plan an open meeting at 6 p.m. Monday in City Hall to discuss the water system. A message left at City Hall was not returned by press time.
In November 2009, the city of approximately 400 residents was asked to issue $3 million in waterworks and sewer system revenue bonds, to be paid with water and sewer revenues. The issue passed 44 to 17.
Pulliam was elected to the board in April. He said he and others had been told that the bond issue was not going to increase water costs.
In an Oct. 26 ceremony, city leaders officially received a $754,000 loan and $839,500 grant in stimulus funds through the USDA Rural Development program to improve its water system. The bonds are in place to cover the loan.
When Alderman Jay Horton estimated that residents will see an increase of $20 to $40 per month in their water bills, City Clerk Cassandra Hartz said that the improvements would eliminate the system’s frequent leaks. That should result in lower bills because residents won’t be paying for water that leaked out of the pipes, she explained.
Pulliam was not at the ceremony. He said no one called him, left a voice mail message or sent him a notice. Pulliam believes he was left out of the ceremony because he is opposed to the cost of the project.
According to a suggested rate schedule prepared for Rural Development, residents would pay $23.19 for the first 1,000 gallons and $5 per each additional 1,000 gallons. Once a water rate is set, it could only be changed with approval of Rural Development.
Pulliam’s bill for October included a charge of $18.32 for 5,040 gallons. If the suggested rate is used, that same water bill would be about $43. According to the bill for another resident in his neighborhood, the October water charge of $16.37 for 2,300 gallons would be around $30.
Those estimates do not include sewer charges, late fees, trash pickup or taxes on the monthly bills.
Plans call for the current water system’s cast iron water distribution lines to be replaced with PVC pipe. The city will build a 120-feet standpipe (water tower). The project includes installation of water meters, improvements in the city’s two well sites and purchase of a backup generator for the water system.
Alderman Al Bieser said the improvements are necessary because the current system is so obsolete it’s becoming a health issue. Low water pressure and rust-colored water are the two biggest concerns, he added.
The rust in the system is attributed to the cast iron pipes that would be replaced, several city officials said.
USDA Rural Development Area Specialist Donna Martin said low water pressure could create an environment for bacteria to thrive because water lingers in the pipes.
Approximately 17 percent of the district’s 190 customers have low water pressure, Bieser estimated.
Pulliam and another resident disagree, saying that the problems in the system only occur when the city uses Well No. 2. The resident, who spoke only on condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation, lives in the area where the low water pressure is said to occur.
“My water pressure is fine,” the resident said. “I know someone who had low pressure, but once he replaced his pipe with a larger one, the pressure was better than the DNR recommends.”
Pulliam also said that several constituents have complained to him about an Oct. 4 letter from Mayor Ron Kennon announcing the need for property easements to install new water lines.
“We are not asking for you to give us any land,” Kennon wrote. “In fact, you will still own 100 percent of your property…This agreement will allow the city to install water lines only.”
A line in bold font, “Without the easements, we will not be able to connect your home and water service will cease on your property.” concerned several residents, Pulliam said. Residents also objected to a brochure about easements that included a section on the use of eminent domain to obtain easements.
“They saw this as a threat,” Pulliam said.
After Pulliam started his petition to dissolve the city, an unsigned letter attacking the petition was distributed in Irondale. The letter claims the proposed water rate is $20 for the first 1,000 gallons and $4.65 per each additional 1,000 gallons. The letter says the current rate is $15.10 for the first 1,000 gallons, $1.06 for the next 1,000 gallons, and 72 cents per 1,000 gallons thereafter.
The letter also notes that the hydrants to be installed under the plan will help lower insurance rates through a better fire protection score.
Pulliam said that although the Rural Development money has been put aside, the city won’t receive it until it fulfills a letter of conditions. He plans to work toward having the city turn down the loan and revise its plans to keep costs affordable for residents, many of whom live on fixed incomes.
Paula Barr is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 172 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.