GROVE - Against the will of the Grove Municipal Services Authority, the Grove City Council voted not to implement a utility rate increase that had been scheduled to take effect June 1.
The services authority had previously voted unanimously to recommend a 10-percent rate increase.
Shortly thereafter, the council voted 3-2 to wait until the proposed budget could be reviewed more thoroughly before implementing a rate increase.
Mayor Gary Bishop and Terry Ryan cast the two dissenting votes.
Bill Miller, the only citizen who spoke in favor of the rate increase, said he understood that three councilmen -Mike Davenport, Gary Trippensee and Larry Parham -had made campaign promises not raise utility rates, then chastised the three for what he called an “unconscionable act.”
Miller reminded the councilmen that GMSA had gotten into a “great deep hole” over the years to the point where there was no money and the entity was playing “catch up” over the past two to three years.
Councilman Larry Parham said that a portion of GMSA's financial issues stemmed from almost $1 million that Simmons Foods owed the city for natural gas fees that had gone uncollected in the past few years.
To date, $480,000 has been collected on the arrearage, and the remaining amount is still being haggled amongst the attorneys for Simmons and the city, according to interim city manager Debbie Mavity.
Parham also reminded the councuil that the city charges GMSA $120,000 for administrative fees, yet the city pays nothing for its utility costs when one building alone uses almost $4,000 per month.
Former mayor Larry Sadler told the council and GMSA that when the people voted to increase four-tenths of a percent sales tax, it was with the understanding that for a 20-year period $600,000 would be transferred each year to GMSA.
“Politicians have a right to change their minds, and I realize that,” Sadler said. “Nobody can waive a magic wand.”
He suggested buying a period of time to “scrub” the budget, compare controllable expenditures and see why expenses have taken largely increased since 2004.
“Voters are facing higher prices for gasoline. I think the taxpayers deserve that break,” Sadler said, reminding city leaders that utilities had already been increased about 27 percent in the past two years.
Another option, Sadler said, was applying a fixed margin on natural gas sales instead of relying on volume sales.
“I don't want to encourage government to get fat, dumb and happy,” Sadler said. “Maybe we should tighten our belts.”
GMSA Chairman Pete Churchwell reminded the council that the present members have inherited the financial woes, adding he felt what had happened with past decisions was done in good faith.
“Let's move forward,” Churchwell told the city council, adding he was frustrated with re-hashing historical wrongdoings.
Officials with GMSA and the city council agreed to proceed with two members from each group conducting work sessions on paring the utility authority's upcoming budget.