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Mitchell water, sewer rates increase to fund projects

To fulfill the ongoing Sanborn and East Central Drainage project, water and sewer rates will increase by $7.75 combined for each household in the city of Mitchell.

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Mitchell City Hall. (Republic file photo)

To fulfill the ongoing Sanborn and East Central Drainage project, water and sewer rates will increase by $7.75 combined for each household in the city of Mitchell.

According to City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein, the water rate proposal would increase the current $3 monthly fee to $5 per household. Ellwein said the water rate increase would go into effect regardless of each household's amount of water use. The sewer rate increase for each household in Mitchell will change from $5 to $10.75 per month, which is a $5.75 monthly increase ($69 annually). Those changes were approved Tuesday during the Mitchell City Council meeting at City Hall.

"The rate increases are necessary in order to accommodate the surcharge that's required for the funding the Sanborn project and East Central drainage project," Ellwein said. "We have to implement that rate increase in order to show that we have the funds pledged to finish the two projects."

While Mitchell residents will be asked to set aside more funds for water use, the city of Mitchell's overall monthly average for water rates is 5.1 percent lower than the average rates for other like-sized cities in the state of South Dakota.

The standard measure for comparing monthly water rates to other first-class municipalities is based off an average of 6,000 gallons of water use per household, which Mitchell is 5.1 percent lower at $36.36 per month than the state average of $38.22 per month. This 2018 comparison factored in the $2 increase that the council approved Tuesday.

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There are 17 first-class municipalities in the state, and cities with a population over 5,000 are classified as first-class municipalities. Ellwein said the yearly comparison study was conducted by AE2S Nexis, an environmental and civil engineering consulting firm out of North Dakota.

According to Ellwein, with the water and sewer rate increases, Mitchell remains 15 percent below the 2018 state monthly average for those costs.

Council member Jeff Smith said the increases are necessary for the city to be able to pay for all of the improvements happening in Mitchell, especially the Sanborn and East Central drainage project.

"We have some huge expenses coming up in the future, so we will have to bring more water to town, and this will helps us get there," Smith said.

The Sanborn project between First and Seventh avenues entails complete reconstruction of water and sewer utilities, sidewalk and curb and gutter, which is scheduled to completed by 2019.

The East Central drainage project will improve the storm sewer system south of Havens Avenue in the area of Juniper and Hackberry streets. It will coincide with sewer and storm main improvements between Dry Run Creek and north of Havens Avenue, as well, cutting down on heavy flooding events.

"For what we know now in our five-year plan, this increase should be sufficient with the two added projects of Sanborn and East Central," Ellwein said. "And the purpose of the comparison study is to show that we are well below the average costs of water and sewer rates."

Community vision plan

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A community vision and strategic planning process for the city of Mitchell was approved during Tuesday's council meeting.

Future IQ, a Minneapolis based consulting firm, was selected out of seven candidates for constructing a community vision plan. Its selection was approved 6-2, but council members John Doescher and Kevin McCardle took issue with the plan, voting against the approval.The $66,500 project will be funded through the remaining city council budget and the 2018 unspent contingency fund, according to City Administrator Stephanie Ellwein.

"I have a hard time thinking a consulting firm out of Minneapolis will be able to address the future needs of Mitchell," McCardle said. "We have a bunch of local leaders in town that know what's going on in the city, and I think those same leaders did a good job during the Focus 2020 plan."

Focus 2020 was a similar community planning project conducted in 2009, which stirred mixed reactions on the effectiveness of that plan from some council members during Tuesday's meeting.

Mitchell Mayor Bob Everson responded to McCardle's concern, noting that some leaders involved in the Focus 2020 plan acted on behalf of bettering themselves and not the city.

Council member Susan Tjarks supported the community vision plan, and praised Future IQ's mission for the future of Mitchell.

"One of the things that I think these guys bring to the table is that they'll help us with our unique set of circumstances and industries that we have to offer," Tjarks said. "But I feel like Future IQ is digging much deeper, and the way they created this trajectory of what we need to do to get where we need to be was impressive."

Council President Steve Rice vocalized his support for Future IQ's community vision plan, highlighting the evolving technology that is working its way into Mitchell.

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"This group can help us understand 5G technology better and autonomous agriculture changes such as driverless tractors, and how that will influence our area," Rice said. "This group has insight on all of those type of items, and I feel that things are changing too fast in today's world to pass up on this opportunity."

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