By Sterling McGinn

Village residents can expect to see an increase of three dollars per month to their sewer bill beginning in January.

The Newberry Village Council made the decision to increase sewer rates by $3 per month, the first increase in five years, at the November 15 regular meeting held at 6 p.m. in the Water and Light building.

Prior to the start of the official meeting, the board held a public hearing so residents could listen to the discussions concerning the needed increase. Residents also had the opportunity to voice their opinions on the matter during the two public comment portions.

Only four members of the public were in attendance.

The village proposed the $3 increase due to inflation, rising operation costs, and for needed improvements to the wastewater system.

During the public hearing, Village Manager Allison Watkins provided information on the ongoing sewer system improvements in the Clean Water SRF project.

The SRF project funds the purchase of up to 40 acres of land for biosolid disposal, and for rehabbing sewer lines.

“This is the relining of 15 blocks of the sewer system in the village limits, and the purchase of up to 40 acres of land,” said Watkins.

The 15 blocks of sewer line equals 13,340 linear feet of sanitary sewer lines. The existing lines will be cleaned, protruding laterals cut off, and material fed into the line will coat the existing line.

The village was recently awarded a low interest loan for $840,000, with an additional $840,000 grant to be used in improving the system. The funds also account for the needed rate increase.

During the regular portion of the meeting, the council unanimously approved the rate increase. The rates will now be $38 per month from $35.

The board will also consider an annual percentage increase.

In other news, the board denied the request for a well at the cement plant on East Victory Way at Northern Sand and Gravel, formerly Newberry Redi-Mix.

At the October meeting, Allan and Kathleen VanSloten, owners of the company, requested permission to drill a well for a second source of water. The VanSlotens also presented their request at the village infrastructure committee meeting.

The VanSlotens plan to build a new, state-of-the-art cement plant. They gave the council with letters of support from MDOT and other entities concerning the need for an additional water supply.

Currently, the Village of Newberry has an ordinance prohibiting the drilling of wells within the village limits. The ordinance’s only stipulation to a well is if the village can’t reasonably provide water or sewer to a customer.

“It’s a short time period to change the whole system, and there would be a lot of flak from the community,” said trustee Dennis Hendrickson. Hendrickson expected many financial arrangements would have to be made.

“At this point in time, that is how we felt it wasn’t reasonable to allow the well to happen.” Hendrickson said.

Finally, at the end of the meeting, Village Clerk Terese Schummer swore in the newly elected members of the council.

The council voted in September to amend Ordinance 53A, allowing for the board to reduce the number of trustees from six to four. The ordinance went into effect on November 4.

The council has frequently dealt with vacancies in recent years, and the vacancies were effectively “no” votes on every issue the council voted on. That made it difficult for the council to operate using standard democratic process, as a single “no” vote could sometimes fail a measure even when all other present trustees vote “yes”.

One of the vacant trustee seats has been empty for about two years and the other vacancy was not filled until Jeff Puckett was appointed earlier in the year.

Puckett was not present at the November 15 meeting. Watkins said she hadn’t spoken to him, but assumed he would be taking the seat. If he does, the council will retain its former size of six trustees, plus a president, until attrition reduces the council to four members, plus a president.

Puckett will remain on the council “until the seat is vacant or the next election,” Watkins said.

Catherine Freese ran unopposed for another term as president of the council. Veteran councilman Dennis Hendrickson was re-elected. Recent appointee Darrell Schummer was elected, and newcomer Jack Olson ran and was elected as well.

Jeff Puckett ran as a write-in candidate for a trustee position and was also elected.

Kip Cameron holds the only trustee seat that was not up for reelection.

With Puckett elected to the board, the council will now continue with seven until the two other seats became vacant and not filled.

Moving forward, the Newberry Village Council will be comprised of Village President Catherine Freese; with Darrell Schummer, Dennis Hendrickson, Kip Cameron Jack Olsen and Jeff Puckett representing five trustees.

That evening, the council had to declare vacancy of the seventh council seat and will advertise the open position. If Puckett decides not to be sworn in, the council will automatically go to a five-member governing body.

The November meeting was the last council session for outgoing trustee Lori Stokes, who didn’t run for another term.

President Freese thanked all present board members for their past and future service to the people of Newberry.