Special election will determine who operates Newton WaterWorks

·4 min read

May 28—Newton residents must decide by September whether they want WaterWorks to be permanently managed by the city council rather than a board of trustees.

In a special election set Sept. 13, registered voters in the city will be asked 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?"

Newton WaterWorks is a municipal utility tasked with providing an adequate supply of water to customers in the service area for domestic, commercial, industrial and firefighting purposes in an efficient, cost effective and dependable manner, city council documents stated.

The board of trustees of Newton WaterWorks are appointed by the mayor and are subject to approval by the city council. Trustees govern the utility much like the library board governs the Newton Public Library; much like the librarians, WaterWorks employees are considered city employees.

Earlier this year, the board of trustees entrusted the city with the day-to-day management of the Newton WaterWorks on an interim basis for two months. The board recognized the city was providing "excellent management services" to customers and wanted to extend the interim management for six more months.

When the board of trustees met in March to vote on that request, it also approved a resolution recommending governance of Newton WaterWorks be permanently placed with the city council. Trustees believe the shift will improve efficiency, communication with other utilities and long-term capital improvement planning.

Brett Doerring, a board trustee of Newton WaterWorks for the past eight years, told council members on April 18 the utility had discussed and considered trying to find a new general manager after the current one retired or the possibility of transferring governance over to the city for some time.

The untimely death of former general manager Lloyd Dale "LD" Palmer in early January expedited the process, which Doerring suggested is why the city took over in the interim. Doerring said it gave WaterWorks a period of time where it could observe operations of the utility under city control.

"It gave us a trial run, so to speak," he said. "During that time, we saw that it was an extremely efficient and effective process having the city with the oversight."

Prior to 1951, WaterWorks was in fact governed by the city council, Doerring said, but it was a very different form of city government back then. In effect, each council member was a manager of various functions in the city, water utility being one of them. As the community grew, so, too, did WaterWorks' operations.

"As a result, on March 26, 1951, the community voted to entrust the water utility to a board of trustees. And it's been like that ever since," Doerring said.

If the city were to take over WaterWorks, Doerring argued there would be a number of opportunities for improvement projects. The distribution system is in good shape, for instance, but there are sections of it that are 80 to 100 years old, and they will need addressed at some point in the future.

Water transmission lines that come from the plant on the Skunk River bottom to town were laid in 1964, Doerring said. Currently, there is "nothing indicative that there's an issue." But the old infrastructure may need to be addressed sometime in the future before it becomes an issue.

Doerring also commended WaterWorks staff, who, like a lot of city employees, "get called out at nasty hours to do nasty things." Financially, the utility is in "great shape." The current assets of cash and accounts receivable total to $2.2 million; liabilities are at $230,000, with long-term liabilities at $700,000.

"So, financially, we're sound," Doerring said. "As just regarding production and distribution: Our average daily production is six million gallons. Our capacity is nine million. So we're well within our capacity at this point. Very important to note ... Rural Water consumes two-third of the WaterWorks production."

Whereas the City of Newton consumers one-third. Doerring said the city has been "a wonderful customer and partner" and keep the water rates "at a level that is extremely attractive to other similar utilities in the state of Iowa."

Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 ext 6560 or at cbraunschweig@newtondailynews.com