VILONIA — The Vilonia City Council took another step to raise sewer rates in the city.
In January, the sewer department made a request for a rate increase following a rate study saying the sewer department’s asset fund is being depleted to take care of a USDA loan, to pay for the sewer facility, with nothing left for emergency repairs and upgrades. The department is borrowing from its savings to make the payments. The study said it would be necessary to charge higher rates to break even.
The proposed rate increase is to be $16 for the first 1,000 gallons and $6 per 1,000 gallons after. The current charge is $13.50 for the first 1,000 gallons and $5 per 1,000 gallons afterwards. Sewer officials have said that the increase would amount to an average of $6 to $7 per month for most customers.
The council, in January, approved drafting an ordinance and presenting it for approval on three readings. The final reading of the proposed ordinance will be held in April, said Mayor James Firestone. There has been no opposition voiced at any of the meetings to the proposed increase.
In other business, the council approved going through the bid process for a floor renovation project to be done at the city hall. Firestone said the project will be considered a construction project and it is anticipated to cost $20,000 or more.
Also, the council approved replacing an amendment in the handbook defining fulltime employees as employees who work 30 hours or more.
Another matter, Howard Williams, board chairman of Vilonia Water, updated the council regarding the Lonoke White Public Water Authority project and the building of a water system that will supply the eight communities including Vilonia, Austin, Beebe, Furlow, Grand Prairie/Bayou, Jacksonville, North Pulaski and Ward.
"This project has been on the table some 20 years," Williams said. "We are getting real close now."
He detailed the starts and stops regarding the project during those years. The cost of the project when completed is to be about $56 million, he said. Water, he said, resulting from the project is anticipated to be flowing from Greers Ferry to Mount Vernon between the 15th and 20th of April. Vilonia and Beebe, he said, will be in line soon afterwards.
"I wanted to share the news about the good positive position we are about to be in," Williams said.
The treatment plant and intake facility, he said, is in the latter stages of being completely online at Greers Ferry. When the project is completed, a 36-inch line will be placed from the lake to Highway 16. From there, a 24-inch transmission line will be laid to Furlow, situated north of Lonoke. In addition, other lines will be laid to each entity including one from Beebe to Vilonia.
He talked about the two metering stations being built in the immediate area — one on Highway 310 at Mount Vernon and another east of Vilonia.
The Vilonia Waterworks, Williams said, was in need of water probably more than any of the other entities involved in the Lonoke White Public Water Authority project. He talked about the amount of work that has been done the past few years to keep the current system supplying Vilonia operational.
He also talked about Vilonia taking a "leap of faith" with Vilonia Water Works becoming a 25 percent participant in the project. Vilonia, he said, is being required to pay back a major portion of the $56 million with a monthly payment of about $50,000 beginning in April. The payment, Williams said, is based on $5 per meter. Officials with Vilonia based their debt on 10,000 meters — predicting growth.
Other than good tasting water and a small increase in the bill, Williams said customers may not realize the magnitude of the project. From the operational standpoint, however, he said, the project will vastly improve the services. With the new services, he said, the Vilonia system can be slowed down and "not be pushed so hard," limiting leaks and repairs.
"A lot of hard work has gone into this," Williams said. "I hope you enjoy your water. Greers Ferry Water is really, really good water."
Firestone recognized Billy Reed, manager of the sewer department, and Alderman Jim King. Reed was named City of Employee of the Year and King was named as Citizen of the Year by the Vilonia Area Chamber of Commerce.
• Fire department. Chief Keith Hillman said firefighters are training. Also, he said, hydrant tests will begin in April.
• Police department. Chief Brad McNew said officers are training at least once per month at the department’s new range on different scenarios. He also said the range is now being utilized by other law enforcement agencies including the Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office.