Management of WaterWorks begins transfer to city council

Nov. 20—Two months after voters decided in a special election to let the city take over the management of Newton WaterWorks and dissolve its board of trustees, the council officially approved an amended ordinance and changed the language of city code to put the administration change in effect.

Council members passed the third reading of the ordinance on Nov. 7 and voted 6-0 to adopt the amendments, which deletes WaterWorks code references in Chapter 32, Section 32.060-32.071 and adds it to the public works chapter of city code. Other revisions were made to language to signify the city's acquisition.

With the new language added to the public works chapter, the city specifies the purpose, powers and duties, definitions, control of funds, accounting, illegal discriminatory rates, treasurer, connection to distribution water main, water meters, maintenance of service line and many other details.

In September, the city held a special election that asked voters the following question: "Shall the Newton WaterWorks Board of Trustees be dissolved and the City Council of Newton, Iowa, in the County of Jasper, Iowa, assume the obligations of managing and controlling the Newton WaterWorks."

Results of the election show about 60 percent of the voters were in favor of the public measure. Only 50 percent of the vote was needed for it to pass.

In April, the Newton WaterWorks Board of Trustees approached the city council requesting the change in governance. At that time, city staff had been managing the utility on an interim basis for the past few months after the sudden passing of general manager Lloyd Dale "LD" Palmer.

Between Palmer's death in January and the retirement of longtime WaterWorks employee Marty Hoffert, the utility lost about 96 years of water experience in a 12-month period. Losing so much institutional knowledge can be devastating. The city stepped in at the request of the board to keep the organization moving.

For the next 90 days, the city took over management while the board assessed the progress. Based on the board's request to have council take over, board members were pleased with the city's work. Nevertheless, the decision to put it to a public vote raised numerous questions from citizens.

Specifically, many worried the change would increase water rates. Newton City Administrator Matt Muckler explained that would all depend on the results of a rate study. But Muckler suggested the board would likely conduct the same rate study to see if the rate structure can accommodate some needed maintenance.

Others worried the change in governance would increase property taxes, but since WaterWorks is a separate utility it completely runs off of user fees. So there would be no impact to property taxes. Money collected by the WaterWorks only goes towards the WaterWorks. It legally cannot be spent anywhere else.

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext 560 or at cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com