Nov. 20 – Two months after voters voted in a special election to let the city take control of Newton WaterWorks and dissolve the board of trustees, the council officially approved an amended ordinance and changed the language of the city statute to change administration in force.
Council members passed the third reading of the ordinance on November 7, voting 6-0 to approve amendments that delete references to the WaterWorks Code in Chapter 32, Sections 32.060-32.071 and add them to the Public Works Chapter of the City Code . Other revisions were made to the language to mark the city’s takeover.
With the new language added to the chapter on public works, the city lays out the purpose, powers and duties, definitions, control of funds, accounting, illegal discriminatory tariffs, treasurer, connection to the water main, water meters , the maintenance of the supply line and many other details.
In September, the city held a special election in which voters were asked the following question: “Should the Newton WaterWorks Board of Trustees be dissolved and the Newton, Iowa City Council in Jasper, Iowa County assume the administrative and oversight duties of the Newton WaterWorks.”
The election results show that about 60 percent of voters were in favor of the public measure. Only 50 percent of the votes were required for acceptance.
In April, the Newton WaterWorks Board of Trustees approached the City Council, demanding a change in governance. At the time, city officials had temporarily managed the utility for the past few months following the sudden death 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. At the request of the board, the city steps in to keep the organization running.
For the next 90 days, the city took over administration while the board evaluated progress. Due to the board’s request to let the council take over, the board members were satisfied with the city’s work. Nonetheless, the decision to submit it to a public vote raised numerous questions from citizens.
In particular, many feared the change would increase water prices. Newton City Manager Matt Muckler stated that everything would depend on the results of a rate study. But Muckler suggested that the board would likely conduct the same interest rate study to see if the term structure can accommodate some necessary maintenance.
Others feared the change in governance would increase property taxes, but since WaterWorks is a separate utility, usage fees are deducted in full. So there would be no impact on the property tax. Funds collected by the waterworks go to the waterworks only. It cannot legally be issued anywhere else.
Contact Christopher Braunschweig at 641-792-3121 extension 560 or at [email protected]