Eureka residents will have numerous opportunities over the next month to gather information and ask questions about the impact of selling the city’s water and sewer system to Missouri American Water.
Voters in Eureka will be asked on the Aug. 4 primary ballot if the city should sell its system to Missouri American Water. The measure, which is called Proposition S, will require a simple majority to pass.
Before the election, residents will have opportunities to view videos about the proposed sale and take part in virtual or in-person town hall meetings.
The city of Eureka and Missouri American Water will host a virtual meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 30. Missouri American Water spokeswoman Christine Page said the meeting will be broadcast on the company’s campaign website, YesOnSEureka.com. She said the website should be active today (June 25).
“The June 30 event will be an information session,” Page said. “Participants will be able to submit questions both ahead of time and during the event.”
Page said residents can submit questions to the city or through the campaign website.
The virtual meeting will be followed by three planned town hall meetings. Those meetings are each scheduled to start at 7 p.m. and will be held July 16, 23 and 30 at the Timbers of Eureka, 1 Coffey Park Lane.
Page said Debbie Dewey, president of Missouri American Water, and Eureka Mayor Sean Flower will make presentations at the town hall meetings, and other Missouri American Water employees will be available to address questions relating to their specific areas of expertise, such as water quality, engineering or operations.
Page said the town halls are expected to last about 45 minutes, with presentations about the proposed sale lasting about 20 minutes, leaving the rest of the time for a question-and-answer period.
“We understand that this could be the most important decision that the voters make for the future of Eureka,” said Julie Wood, Eureka’s city clerk and director of economic development and communication, who is helping coordinate the meetings along with other city officials. “We want to make sure everybody has the ability to ask questions and get answers from the right people. We want to make sure the information out there is accurate, because this is a huge decision for our community.”
Wood said the city will ask residents attending meetings at the Timbers to follow guidelines put in place by St. Louis County to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. Those guidelines include practicing social distancing and wearing a mask.
The July meetings are expected to be recorded, and those meetings will be posted on the city’s website, eureka.mo.us, Wood said.
“The goal is that in August people are very educated (about the issue) and any concerns they have will be answered,” Wood said.
The city also is working with Missouri American Water to create a webpage on Eureka’s website to answer some commonly asked questions.
Wood said one common question has to do with the city’s existing water pipes. If those are not replaced, people want to know how simply changing the water source will improve water quality, she said.
Flower said in a Facebook post that, if the sale goes through, water would be supplied through Missouri American’s Wildwood plant. He said a purchase would take the city wells offline and give Missouri American Water responsibility for major upgrades.
According to the offer letter, if voters approve the sale in August, the water system would switch to its new supply in mid- to late-2022.
Flower said he also plans to produce videos that will address some of the most commonly asked questions about the sale and make those videos available on the city’s website.
“People are busy,” Flower said. “It is one thing to get together for a social event or something that is fun, but to come up and listen to someone talk about water, if it was me, I would look at it like can I just get my question answered on a video. I think it will work out that it is helpful.
“The videos we did for Prop E were helpful, because people could watch them when they wanted. Also, they got information first, and then their questions got better.”
Prop E was a $15.9 million sales tax measure that voters approved in April 2018. The proposition increased the city’s sales tax from 8.613 cents to 9.113 cents per $1 spent with the nearly $16 million in anticipated tax revenue slated to be spent on flood mitigation efforts, replacing the Allenton Bridge and constructing a new police building.
“When we did Prop E, we did town hall meetings,” Flower said. “I think we did four of them. We didn’t have much attendance at the meetings. I don’t fault people for that. They are busy. So, the more you can make a video and let people watch it when they want, the better. I think it is easier.”
Flower has come out in favor of selling the city’s water and sewer systems to Missouri American Water.
The mayor said the city’s sewer system must have capital improvements to stay up to code, and the city would have to raise rates prohibitively to cover the cost. He said the upgrades may cost residents less under Missouri American Water’s ownership.
Flower also said water quality would improve if the water system is sold.
He said the cash the city will receive could help make up for lost sales tax revenue from the last couple of months.
An appraisal of Eureka’s water and sewer systems has valued both systems at a combined $28 million. The appraisal valued the water system at $18 million and the sewer system at $10 million.
Missouri American Water is offering the full appraisal amount, and it plans to spend $37.2 million in capital improvements over the next five years. Because of existing debt, the city’s net cash proceeds from the deal would come to $20.7 million.
Planned capital improvements include, but are not limited to, building a main extension to connect the Eureka water distribution system to Missouri American’s St. Louis County water supply and making sure the sewer system is compliant with federal and state regulations.
According to Missouri American Water’s offer letter, an average water user’s bill would be about $78 a month for 6,400 gallons of water, compared to the current $62 average monthly charge. However, Missouri American Water also said it estimates that Eureka residents would save about $1,000 over the next five years if it covered the costs for system improvements instead of the city paying for the upgrades.
“We look forward to introducing ourselves to any residents who may be unfamiliar with Missouri American Water and sharing how we can enhance the city’s water quality and make needed investments in the sewer system to maintain regulatory compliance,” Page said. “Our main goal is to answer any questions that Eureka voters may have about the proposed sale.”