Hannibal Courier-Post

Monroe City voters approve sewer project

Monroe City city hall.
Forrest Gossett For the Courier Post
Posted: Nov. 5, 2019 9:18 pm Updated: Nov. 5, 2019 9:30 pm

Voters overwhelmingly approved a $7.5 million project that will double their sewer rates to replace Monroe City's crumbling sewer system during Tuesday's General Election.

Unofficial results Tuesday night showed that voters in Monroe, Ralls and Marion counties gave the measure an 87%-to-13% margin of victory – 279 yes votes to 41 no votes. In the Monroe County section of Monroe city, turnout was estimated at just over 17% of registered voters.

 “Sweet,” said Monroe City Mayor John Long as he learned of the overwhelming vote from residents. “I am just so gratified with the support we received from citizens on this. All of us had to swallow and vote to approve this.”

Long said Monroe City has no choice but to modernize its sewer system. When it was deployed in the late 1960s, it was projected to last about 30 years. At nearly 50 years old, the once state-of-the art facility is falling apart with significant issues to get the attention of state regulators.

 “I have fears that one day, the plant will just shut down and we will have a sewage mess in Monroe City,” he said prior to the vote.

Monroe City has been under the microscope of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources over sewer plant issues. Long said inaction by the city would most certainly a collapse of infrastructure, and the department would likely begin assessing fines.

The vote was a high-risk maneuver for Monroe City, as state law mandates that the bond issue be approved by at least two-thirds of those voting in a November election versus 58 percent approval in the April 2020 Municipal Election.  Moreover, faced spending upward of $10,000 for special election because it was the only time on the ballot. City officials will not know the exact final price until later this month.

The $7.5 million project approved by voters will replace the current plant. Under the plan, the city is confident that it will get a $3.75 million grant – roughly half the cost - from the Rural Development Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The city will borrow the balance.

Ratepayers in the Monroe City would see an increase from the current $9 per 1,000 gallons to $18.40 per thousand gallons of use – just more than double what they are paying now.  But as expensive as doubling rates will be for resident, if the vote had failed, the city would still have to replace the sewer system, but with no grant assistance.

Prior to the vote, Jackie Pangborn, city administrator, said that defeat of the proposal in Tuesday's election would force Monroe City to borrow all the money necessary to construct a new plant. That would have pushed the cost to $10 million, primarily because of fees and interest. Ratepayers would face between $36-to-$40 per thousand gallons used – a more than 400 percent increase.

Long said that voters believed city officials as they talked one-and-one with residents and conducted a town-hall information meeting to explain Monroe City's limited options.

“My stomach was in knots all day,” Long said. “This is such a huge vote for the future of Monroe City.”

Long said the city's next step is to solicit bids for an engineering study and for a plant design. He hopes that actual construction begins by July 2020.

fgossett@courierpost.com