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The value of water was at the heart debate before the Chadron City Council Monday.

A proposal to increase water rates for the Ridgeview Country Club drew fire from the club’s board and members. The council is in the middle of preparing its 2017-18 budget, which includes a 10-cent hike across the board for business and residential customers and an increase in meter rates.

The golf course, however, has its water rates determined through a separate ordinance, which places the rates for its untreated water at 1/10 of the residential rates. An aging water system prompted the council to take a look at system-wide increases. Among the changes called for were raising the golf course’s rates from a base of 12 cents per 100 cubic feet to 45 cents. Each of the rate categories – determined by usage – were set to go up significantly, with the final category of more than 10,000 cubic feet increasing from 15 cents per 100 cubic feet to 50 cents.

Concerned board members and golfers filled the council chambers Monday to protest the hike during the second reading of the budget and fee ordinances related to the golf course.

The proposed change equals a 300 percent increase for Ridgeview, while residential customers will see only an 8 percent increase, said Steve Behrends. The need for setting the club’s rate at one-third of the residential rates is unsubstantiated at this point, he continued, and it’s unrealistic for the long-term viability of the course.

Such a hike would require increased membership and green fees and could drive the club’s membership numbers, which are already falling, down farther, Behrends said. In addition, the course has its own irrigation system upgrade in the offing, which is expected to cost $750,000.

He acknowledged that the golf course may be due a rate hike, but disagreed with the sharp curve of the proposal presented two weeks ago.

“It doesn’t feel like anybody knows the magic number,” Behrends said, throwing his support behind forming a committee to study the issue.

That idea was suggested by Jim Gardner, the board’s treasurer, who urged the council to keep in mind that the golf course has been a “positive influence” and a “great economic impact” to the city.

Utility Superintendent Tom Menke presented several figures he compiled in an effort to determine the cost to the city of both treated and untreated water, coming up with a final tally of $1.13 per 100 cubic feet for treated water and 65.9 cents for untreated water.

Gardner challenged Menke’s figures, saying he didn’t believe the depreciation of the water plan or improvements on other parts of the city’s water system should be figured in to the cost of untreated water. He also disagreed with the amount of personnel costs Menke attributed to untreated water.

“This is obviously something where a long-term plan is needed,” said Vice Mayor Miles Bannan, who suggested leaving the rates alone for the upcoming year and studying the issue by committee.

Councilman Mark Werner agreed that delving into the issue by committee was a good idea, but noted that he believes a rate increase is in store at some point.

“I do think (the number) is more than 10 percent,” Werner said.

Council members George Klein and Keith Crofutt were on board for a study but disagreed with leaving the rates as is for the 2017-18 year.

“I think we’re subsidizing the golf course, and I don’t feel really good about that,” Klein said, suggesting the country club take a 3 cent increase for the upcoming year.

Tye Pourier, a member of the club, argued that Klein’s suggested hike would still equate to a 25 percent increase.

“I think you’re taking advantage of the golf course,” he said, suggesting a compromise of 2 cents, falling between Bannan’s and Klein’s suggestions.

The council eventually reached a consensus to follow Bannan’s suggestion. The third and final reading for the budget and all of the related ordinances will be Sept. 5. The council will also decide at that time what the mill levy will be for the upcoming year. At present, the council agrees 4-1 to leave the levy at its current rate, which will generate additional revenue for the city.

“I’m really disappointed in that,” Klein said, who wants to see the city keep the same tax asking in dollars and decrease the mill levy.

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