BELLE — Belle aldermen on March 1 voted 3-0 to apply for a 50/50 percent DNR grant due at the end of the day that will hopefully be used to upgrade the city’s water infrastructure. It …
BELLE — Belle aldermen on March 1 voted 3-0 to apply for a 50/50 percent DNR grant due at the end of the day that will hopefully be used to upgrade the city’s water infrastructure. It would also require the passage of a bond issue.
Aldermen met with the city’s engineer Terris Cates of Integrity Engineering to discuss applying for a grant. Cates along with Public Works Director Tony Baretich explained to the board why the city needs the 50/50 percent grant to purchase a new water tower, replace pipes throughout the infrastructure, and fix the distribution problem. The topic was not listed in the special meeting notice that explained the board was meeting for lunch, sexual harassment training and budget review.
“Of all the projects we’ve done with the city, the water is the most dire,” Cates said. “You’ve got some of the best-tasting water in the state.”
Cates said working with Nathan Abel and now Tony Baretich, the city’s operators have been great in keeping up with the city’s water.
Cates said he has designed many water operations to be the best for each city.
“In our city, well one and tower one was put in 1937,” he said. “That tower is 86 years old and the well is 86 years old.”
He said well one is burned out and companies don’t want to touch it because it is so old. It produces 140 gallons a minute.
Well three, replaced in 2021, replaces 500 gallons a minute.
“According to state regulations, you are supposed to have another well that can back up your main well,” Cates said. “Well one can’t.”
Cates said the city has grown about 10 percent since 2020, and there is not enough storage. The 50,000-gallon well (and water tower) next to the Lonnie Feeler Memorial Building needs to come down and is offline now due to problems it was causing.
“We need a new tower, another $300,000, to handle our fire flow,” Cates said. “For a city the size of Belle we need about 1,360 gallons per minute for fire flow. We have a real problem. Out of 67 fire hydrants we only have six that we can use. As far as the fire department being able to pull water, we have to go to the 300,000-gallon tower, the fire hydrant on Bellair, that is where we pull out our water and distribute.”
Cates said with the 67 hydrants, he was working with former public works director Abel and now Baretich.
“You can’t turn a fire hydrant on without people losing water in their homes,” Cates said. “It is a massive problem.”
Cates said they have 44,000 feet of four-inch castiron and 28,000 feet of two-inch line.
“We need to replace that four-inch castiron, it is a real problem,” Cates said. “Even though you’ve got the best-tasting water, we don’t have good fire safety for our people.”
Cates said the city needs to change the four-inch and two-inch service laterals as well and replace them with plastics. There are meters in basements that need to be moved to yards and about seven commercial meters that need to be brought out. So we need a new well, a new tower and a distribution piping change.”
Cates said there is no commitment to the grant he was asking the board to apply for and submit that same day. He was prepared to present at the Feb. 14 meeting but was not informed of the meeting being changed to Feb. 13 due to Valentine’s Day. He informed the board he was not charging them to attend the March 1 meeting either.
“This is more of an informational meeting and it is the last day to turn in this application, March 1 is the deadline,” Cates said. “We have time to get it in this afternoon if the board wants to do it. I am not saying that to pressure you, that is just where we are in the schedule.”
He presented the board with an application that needed the mayor’s signature if the city wanted to participate.
“I have got the cost broken out on page two to show what it would be,” Cates continued.
He listed the well, generator, and tower, and reworking the distribution system with functioning eight-inch line hydrants. It also included the design of the tower, inspection, and cost to work on the bond issue.
“There is no commitment,” Cates said. “If you sign it, if the board chooses, then you are on the planning list for the state. If you don’t, then we are not going to be able to do this for another year.”
Cates reiterated that submitting the application only put the city on a planning list, it did not obligate funds.
“Nothing is going to happen until you pass a bond issue,” Cates said. “It doesn’t have to happen right away, but with a bond issue, you would be eligible for a 50 percent grant. Commercial interest rates right now are around seven percent, but they are 1.5 percent through DNR. So you would get a low-interest loan and a 50 percent grant.”
Cates said this year they had surplus money and were giving out 75 percent grants.
“There is a possibility that could happen next year, but for sure a 50 percent grant next year,” he said. “With the bond issue, DNR looks at a 5,000 gallon per month user as the standard. I think it is around $28 a month (base rate). With a 50 percent grant and a low-interest loan, we have 700 connections, but because of the large water users, like the school, restaurants, and laundry — 46 percent of the water we use and sell are by our large water users.”
Cates said it isn’t right that they pay what everyone else pays since they use more water.
“They need to pay more of the base rate, which comes out to about 202 home equivalents,” Cates said. “So even though we have about 700 connections, with home-equivalents you are looking at about 902 connections that would be paying this off. School is a larger share, laundry is a larger share and so forth.”
He said the bond issue could be done in projects. It would raise the base rate from $28 to $35 a month, which Cates said is still cheap. He suggested raising rates gradually by 25 cents at a time.
“It is not massive amounts of dollars, but I think everyone would like better quality of life and good fire protection,” Cates said. “I checked with Tony, and he said the fire chief said our ISO is seven, which is about the lowest you can get. With our new tower, new well and changing all two and four-inch lines to six and eight-inch lines like it needs to be, I am confident we would go up to an ISO of six, possibly five if we can work with the fire department.”
Cates said that rating would decrease the city’s insurance.
“For the city’s sake, this really needs to happen,” Cates finished. “Once people realize how bad the situation is, and pass a bond issue with rates that will be raised over time, then you have to design and construct, you are easily looking at three to five years.”
He asked the board if they had questions. Alderman Jeanette Struemph asked how many homes could be added to the system if it were updated.
Cates said growth wouldn’t be an issue, they could possibly add another 50 percent of the existing housing. It would, however, be an issue if the city chooses not to upgrade.
He said fire safety is a big deal and there have been 95 water main breaks since Baretich began working for the city in 2020. A water main break at the corner of Third Street and Alverado Avenue on March 20 cut off the water supply to the school campus.
“That is always a health hazard,” Cates said.
He commended the city for keeping the system going but said it is way past the design life.
“What is the potential if we don’t do this that the state comes in, says we are not in compliance, and starts to force feed us to do these things?” Struemph asked.
Cates said they will be dinged and written up for not being in compliance. They will tell the city they are out of compliance and telling them they are out of compliance.
Baretich speculated that the next step would be forced chlorination because they would continue to have main beaks and boil advisories.
“To avoid that would be huge,” Baretich said. “We are one of the few in the state of Missouri that do not have to chlorinate our drinking water.”
Struemph asked if this was the same project that was introduced to the board about five years ago. Cates said it was.
“This problem is not new,” Cates said. “Back then we had an 80/20 percent grant approved by the city and DNR.”
Cates said if the city chooses to proceed with the grant and bond issue, Integrity Engineering can assist them with the informational brochure.
“It has to be done, it is just how it is going to be paid,” Cates said. “You’ve got to do it. If you don’t pass a bond issue then the city has to go lease purchase and pay market rates with no grant. Rates are going to double versus passing the bond issue, getting a low-interest loan with grant money and only raising rates to $35.”
Cates said the 80/20 percent grants are no longer available. It could be 75/25 percent like it was this year, but it will most likely be a 50/50 grant.
Alderman Pud Mitchell asked if they have to tear down the old tower if they proceed. Cates said the city needs to tear it down since they can’t use it.
“You really shouldn’t be using it unless you are going to go in there and sandblast it and bring it up to code,” Cates said. “Honestly, it is like an old car, how long do you keep putting money in?”
Baretich said the tower can’t be left empty. It would either need to be filled with water or sand.
Mayor Daryl White, Jr., said he understands the need, but felt it should have been done during the regular board meeting.
“We are talking about raising water rates, passing a bond issue, spending $2 million dollars —,” White said.
Struemph argued that it is the future of the town and if they don’t start now they are not going to have anything.
“I hate that we are doing it in a special, day meeting,” White said, adding he would have liked to have it before the February meeting. “Last month at the council meeting I was assured we would have plenty of water if there was a fire. I have never heard this in my life that we have six out of 67 fire hydrants working.”
Baretich said the fire department doesn’t pull for hydrants in town, they drop a tank and shuttle the water from the tower on Bellair.
“Why did we neglect upkeep until we were 60 behind,” White asked.
Baretich said he doesn’t know, it predates him.
“It is cheaper to put one or two in than it is 60,” White said.
Mitchell asked if the 61 hydrants don’t work at all. Baretich said he was instructed not to use the hydrants with black paint on them.
“Another problem is when you turn on a fire hydrant that people start running out of water,” Cates said. “There is just not enough water transmission happening.”
Cates said the issue will go before the public regardless of the board’s submission to the program.
“A bond issue has to pass,” he said. “All you are doing is letting DNR know you would like to be on a planning list. They are going to say fine, nothing happens until a bond issue passes. You will need to go before the public for that. It is not something that is going to be happening behind the scenes. We will be wanting to educate them and let them know what is going on.”
Struemph said the bond issue increase still would be a small price to pay compared to other cities.
Cates said he had many discussions with the former mayor about the water issues.
“This is not new information, mayor,” Cates said. “Even though it is new to you.”
“I think it is new,” White countered. “I have lived in this town all my life and I have never heard anyone say there are 61 out of 67 fire hydrants we can’t hook to. I am not trying to be hateful, but I think this is information that should have been out.”
Mitchell asked why the city allowed it to pile up.
“For the same reason we are doing our irrigation field that was installed in the 1980s,” Baretich said.
Mitchell asked why they wouldn’t have replaced four at a time even.
“It was easier to shut them down than ask the public for money to fix them,” said Struemph who has been on the board for about 10 years.
White said he agrees.
“But that has been hid,” White said. “No one ever said to the public that we are shutting down. That is the problem I have with it.”
Michell said even if it does pass, the issue wouldn’t be fixed for five years. Cates said it is a process, but they have to start somewhere.
“The problem is not going away,” Struemph said. “We did see a big problem last year.”
White said they needed to make a decision on whether they were going to approve it.
“It needs to be signed,” White said. “But it is going to be portrayed that we are trying to hide something from the public.”
White said he declined to sign the grant application after it was introduced at the February meeting because the board had not approved it.
Alderman Adam Padgett asked why bigger users such as the school will pay more of the share if a bond issue were to pass.
“All high users would pay more, including schools and commercial users,” Cates said, adding that the base rate would be determined by usage. Baretich said the city does not currently differentiate between residential and commercial users, so everyone has the same low base rate.
The school uses roughly 121,000 gallons a month and churches and the park don’t pay at all.
Mitchell said there are between seven and eight churches in town.
“One stool sticks open and runs continuously for six days is a lot of water,” Mitchell said.
Baretich said a toilet stool can use up to 60,000 gallons of water a day.
Struemph added that many churches meet more than once a week as well, so they are using water much more than the 52 Sundays a year, especially if they meet two to three times a week.
“Ultimately, if we decided to sign this today, it is a mute issue if (citizens) don’t pass the bond issue,” Padgett said. “They are the ones who are going to decide if they want the update or don’t want the update.”
White argued that the information they were given during the meeting had never been given to the public.
“No, but we have heard it before,” Struemph argued.
Baretich said town hall meetings will be beneficial to get the word out. Struemph said they have to educate the people so they realize where the money is going.
City Clerk Frankie Horstman said the information will need to be taken to the public, especially if the city is asking for a bond issue to be passed.
White said what they talked about at the board meeting on Feb. 13 and the discussion on March 1 was different.
“We didn’t have to take the other water tower offline, we voted to take it offline,” White said. “We could still be using that water tower, we have no proof the Belle water tower is contaminated. No proof it isn’t useable. Outdated, sure. Last council meeting we said we have more than enough water now today we are hearing we can’t fight a fire,” White said. “We’ve got to quit double talking to the people.”
Baretich said when he took the question about how much water the city has on hand, he meant there was plenty of water the tower and available to fight a fire.
“We didn’t discuss the distribution side of that,” Baretich said. “As far as having 300,000 gallons, daily usage amounts and such. It does meet what we’re doing it is just not the most efficient or ideal.”
Cates assured White that the city has enough water to fight a fire, it is the distribution system that needs to be revamped. They need to be able to pump 1,167 gallons per minute for a town the size of Belle. He said there is enough water, it is a challenge to get the water from the tower to the fire.
“I doubt the ISO would be a seven if we reported to the ISO that 97 percent of our hydrants weren’t working,” White said. “I agree, 100 percent, it needs to be done, but I feel dirty about doing it today.”
Struemph said signing the application to see if DNR would look at the city of Belle is not committing funds.
“We have to be the ones to push it farther,” she said.
Cates said the public would be involved. The application is good for two years.
“I think it needs to be in motion form, that is why I have not signed it,” White said.
Struemph made a motion to sign and submit the city’s intention to apply for the grant, but no one seconded. After six seconds, Struemph addressed the other board members.
“You are really not compelling yourself to anyone at this point,” Struemph said. “You are just putting your name up for grabs so that you can potentially get something at a later point.”
“We did our other grant on an 80/20 percent and this is a 50 percent,” she said. “Maybe if we had applied for this earlier there might have been an 80/20 for this.”
Cates said if they had applied this year it would have been a 75/25 percent grant.
Mitchell seconded the motion and the board passed it with a 3-0 vote.
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