New Water and Sewer Rates Rile Some Walker Residents

By Dave Franzman, Reporter


By Liz Blood

WALKER, Iowa - Water bills for a lot of eastern Iowans shot up dramatically this summer with all the dry weather and outdoor watering. But higher water and sewer costs are really hitting home this month in the Linn County community of Walker.

And for Walker residents, the drought explains only part of it.

The combined water and sewer bills in Walker that hit mailboxes earlier this month amounted to double, or more, the previous amount for some customers. In a small town, a $200 or $300 monthly water utility bill will get some attention. And city officials say they’ve gotten dozens of calls and letters in the town of 750.

Walker mayor Mark Mooma said the explanation is visible right in the middle of town and also on the far southeast side. In the last two years, the city has spent almost $4 million for a new water tower and also a new sewage lagoon and treatment system. And the most recent water and sewer bills, representing the last week of June and all of July, is when the bulk of the increases to pay for all the construction took effect.

Mooma admitted the new rates are the talk of the town right now. And Aly Benesch, a beauty salon owner, agreed that’s what she’s hearing from her customers. Benesch said her shop’s water and sewer bill tripled this month. But it still adds up to just $89 a month for her, so it’s not an extreme hardship.

“I think everybody likes the idea of improvements. They don’t like the bill. It’s like buying a new car, you want a new car but you don’t want the payments,” Benesch said.

The water rates in Walker in the latest bill increased to $3.74 for the first 1,500 gallons and $9.85 for the same amount of sewage. Rates after the first 1,500 gallons begin to fall. Mayor Mooma said the rates are comparable to some other nearby communities with city-provided water and sewer. But he admits it’s a significant increase over what residents in Walker were used to paying just a few years ago.

Part of the rate shock is the fact Walker didn’t make any significant improvements in city’s water or sewer systems since the late 1940’s when the original system was constructed. So catching up with a new 150,000 gallon water tower and sewage system than can handle up to a million gallons a day in the last two years made a huge impact.

Kevin Shoop, the town’s public works manager, said the community really had no choice. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources was constantly citing the town for an outdated sewage system that would overflow into a nearby creek. The water system was also out of date.

Shoop said some people had so much trouble believing what it cost, they insisted the city check meters for accuracy. Shoop said in every case, the meter didn’t lie.

“Some of them act surprised. A lot of people don’t realize it was coming. They have made a concerted effort to conserve water and with the new tower and water mains we have more water pressure,” Shoop said.

One resident, Bob Mudd, said he’s heard a lot of griping but he’s trying to adjust to the new reality. “I’m sure there are lots of people who are really mad. Most people I talk to are figuring out ways to cut water use and that’s what my wife and I are doing.”

Both the mayor and public works manager said the new rates couldn’t have come at a worse time. Many residents constantly watered flowers, grass and gardens during the dry days of June and July. That extra watering is also impacting bills along with stiffer rates. Mooma said the city council has heard complaints about tying the water usage to sewer rates since a lot of water didn’t go into the town’s sewage system. The city council approved a credit on the most recent bills to reflect all the outdoor watering.

But the biggest issue remains the $4 million improvement bill that’s finally coming due and the fact just 311 water customers in Walker will have to foot the bill.

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