BEATRICE – The prospect of adding to the utility infrastructure fee in Beatrice got a lukewarm response, at best, from the Beatrice Board of Public Works Wednesday.

Recently, the board was asked to consider an increase by a member of the Beatrice City Council. A suggestion was made to add $1 per month to the residential fee, and a $1.50 to the commercial fee… including that on water, sewer and electric service. BPW member Darin Baehr said given reserve levels and previous planning for upcoming projects, now is not the time to add to the fee.

"We just did the budget, and so if we say we're going to change it....I don't like the idea of just raising it to have more of a rainy day fund. So, I'm going to take it from the ratepayer so I can keep it, just in case something happens. I think we've looked out over two years, and we have capital projects further out. There's definitely a time we're probably going to have to increase it, when that comes. But, personally I don't think a month after we've set a budget, is a time to be changing it."

Public Works Board Chairman Bob Moran says if the council wants to increase the fee, it should focus on water and sewer…where the cash reserves are smaller than in the electric department.

"When it's time to raise rates, you raise rates because you have to and because you need to. This is the infrastructure way to say, let's build up a cash reserve. If I was sitting on the council and they're adamant about doing something...I'd be more inclined to up the things where we know we have some infrastructure things that we're working on...and that is water and WPC (wastewater pollution control)....and where we don't have the cash reserves."

City Finance Director Hannah Bell says the current infrastructure fee generates about $474,000 annually and the fund from that sits at $1.6 million in sewer operations….and about $1.3 million in the water department. About $370,000 is budgeted for completing a water main loop between 33rd and Lincoln…and U.S. Highway 136. About $837,000 in sewer improvements are budgeted over the next two years.

Board of Public Works Manager Tobias Tempelmeyer said adding another $1 monthly to the residential fee and $1.50 to the commercial fee would generate about another $80,000 annually.  No recommendation was made by the Board of Public Works Wednesday. The board will discuss the issue again. The ultimate decision is up to the city council.

On another issue, the public works board on Wednesday voted to recommend that the city council adopt a revised wellhead protection plan developed by an engineering firm intended to protect the city’s public water supply system.