The Gazette covers City Hall, now a flood-damaged icon on May's Island in the Cedar River

Industrial mainstay Penford and Carol Martin on same page in budget protest

In City Hall on March 14, 2008 at 4:29 am

 The eyes can begin to glaze over after a few months of going around about a city’s next budget.

 However, Tim Kortemeyer, president and general manager of a long-established industry in the city, Penford Products Co., showed up at Wednesday evening’s annual budget hearing to lodge a protest, and his words worked to focus attention on one of the central features on the new budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

 It’s not just property taxes to fret about now.

The new budget raises property taxes a bit – 5.71 percent for homeowners, less for commercial and industrial property owners.

 But it really raises the total fee for the package of four city utility services. That punch is sending the utility bill up 11.4 percent for the average household getting water, waste water, storm sewer and solid waste/recycling services. And that amount is more than double the usual annual increase. It’s a hike that will have most households seeing a larger increase in their annual utility payments than in their property taxes.

 Kortemeyer told the City Council that Penford’s bill to the city for waste water treatment was slated to leap 15 percent via an industrial formula for the service that differs from the typical household.

 Just before, Carol Martin, a frequent visitor to council meetings, had told the council that the increases in fees and taxes hurt regular people. And Kortemeyer said his dilemma was no different than Martin’s. Industries like Penford had to operate with tight budgets, too, he said. “It does put a cramp in our business,” he told the council.

The jump in waste water fees is coming, in part, because the city is embarking on a huge, expensive replacement of the main trunk sanitary sewer line that takes the metro area’s waste water the last stretch to the city’s Water Pollution Control facility. And a significant majority of the waste in that line comes from local agricultural processing industries like Penford and from the Cedar River Paper Co.

Kortemeyer said he understood the need to fix the sewer line, but he faulted the city for not building cash reserves in years past to help foot the bill. Because of that, he said Penford now faces a “big leap” in fees. He called on the council to delay the fee increases until the city completes a cost-of-service study to better gauge which industries uses what part of the services.

 But Kortemeyer noted, too, that Penford had brought in outside legal counsel to request that the city provide the company with any and all incentive deals on waste water rates the city may have made in recent years with other new and established industries to get them here or to keep them here. Is Penford paying more to make up for the incentives given others? he wondered.

Pat Ball, the city’s utilities director, noted that those paying higher fees for renovations will be the same ones enjoying the new improvements. He said the city’s industrial waste-water rates have been among the lowest among Iowa’s largest cities, but that the new fee increases may be moving Cedar Rapids to the middle of the pack.

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  1. Has anyone thought of blaming GEORGE W BUSH!!!? LOL! Well, now all of a sudden big business comes forward….where were you when all you garbage was in our neighborhood after the flood!? Who paid to cleanup your HYPO!? You got it ME!

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