Lake Ozark’s new sewer tax – what happens now?

Following approval by voters for the City of Lake Ozark to institute a one-quarter of one-percent (1/4 of 1%) sales tax to pay for sewer upgrades, officials are preparing to begin adding the tax to retail purchases within the city early next year.

According to Lake Ozark City Administrator Dave Van Dee, city officials haven’t yet taken any steps to begin charging the tax because they are waiting for the election results to be officially certified. However, he said, once the city receives word that the Camden County and Miller County clerks have officially certified the vote the Board of Aldermen will be asked to approve an ordinance putting the tax into effect.

Voters in the City of Lake Ozark approved the tax on a 53 to 47 percent vote during the November 6 General Election. The money from the tax, which Van Dee estimates will be about $127,000 annually, will be used to pay for sewer upgrades ordered by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Improvements to the existing sewer system were ordered by the circuit court during a lawsuit that stemmed from a large sewage spill that leaked into the Lake several years ago. During that court case, the judge placed the city on probation until many of the repairs and upgrades had been completed. Earlier this year, that probation was lifted and the city is now working with the DNR to complete the remainder of the court-ordered upgrades.

Van Dee says phase two of the project will cost about $2.2 million dollars to complete and will include replacing a number man holes, miles of sewer mains and several lift stations.

“Some of those man holes are forty years old,” Van Dee said. “And the mains are just as old. They have to be replaced if we are going to be able to meet the DNR standards for keeping as much runoff (rainwater) as possible out of the sewers and thus out of the treatment plant.”

He estimates that most of the upgrades will be done in 2013 with the remaining problems repaired during the 2014 construction season.

“We hope to kick start the project in April,” Van Dee said. “Then have it 75 percent complete by the end of the year and handle the other 25 percent of the project in 2014.”

Van Dee said once aldermen have passed the ordinance instituting the new tax, the DNR will issue low interest bonds to pay for the repairs and the city will pay those bonds back with funds garnered through the new tax.

“If the vote is certified as we expect it to be, we’ll probably have the board vote on the ordinance during their regularly scheduled meeting, Dec. 11,” he said,

The entire court ordered sewer upgrade project cost several million dollars and the funds to pay for the recently-completed “phase one” portion are being garnered through a $2.50 increase in monthly user rates. However, rather than ask property owners in the city to pay for the entire project, officials decided to ask voters for a sales tax increase to pay for “phase two.”

Earlier this fall, Van Dee told The Lake Today, the decision to place the tax question on the ballot was made to give city residents the option of having tourists and visitors withstand some of the cost of the upgrades by instituting a one-quarter cent sales tax on retail purchases made inside the town’s limits.

“The tourists and visitors use the sewer system too,” Van Dee said. “And we thought it only fair that they help pay a portion of the cost of repairing it.”

Apparently the majority of Lake Ozark voters agreed because the ballot measure passed on a vote of 427- yes to 372 - no. Van Dee said “a simple majority” vote was all that was needed for tax increase to pass.

Van Dee said the new tax revenue would not be used to extend sewer services to any areas that are not currently served by the system. He said once the existing sewer system has been upgraded to DNR standards, city officials will “begin looking into” extending the service to “unsewered” neighborhoods in the town. He said most of those areas that do not currently have the service are on the North Shore and in many of those areas there aren’t any city-operated utility systems at all.

“When we get to that phase of the project, the first thing that will have to be done is extend the infrastructure into those areas,” Van Dee said. “As is done with the paving of roads and other infrastructure projects, the property owners in each area will be asked to help defray the cost of the project through a one-time charge for extending the service into the neighborhood and connecting it to their property.“

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