City of Comanche strapped for cash

Comanche_The City of Comanche operates its own electric, water, sewage, and sanitation companies, but it's having trouble paying the bills.  The city has electricity and water bills due at the end of the month, and the general fund may be short by as much as $10,000.

As costs and expenses have risen, the city has not' increased the fees customers are charged for their utilities.  However, with some people paying their bills late - and others not paying at all - the city is responsible for paying.

The city has the option to transfer money to the general fund from the Public Works Administration Account, if necessary.  But, that option would leave the Public Works nearly in the red.  City Manager Brant Ball tries to keep utility costs low for his customers.  However, he also has to manage what the city spends.  "Our bills that we receive for our electricity purchase have gone up," he says.  "The bill that we get for purchasing raw water from Waurika Lake - that expense has gone up."

Ball says the city has tried to be a good neighbor, and not increase its charges to customers.  "We are cutting our expenses," he says.  "I'm looking at them every day.  We have cancelled a variety of contracts.  We are reducing our expense every possible way that we can."  Public Works employees have been carpooling to work, by using one truck to transport several workers at once in order to reduce gas and diesel use.  "Having more, as many people as needs to go to that job, go in one vehicle if we can.  And trying to cut back on trips into town," Ball says.

Comanche Waterworks chemically treats water from Waurika Lake, but in order to cut back on costs, the plant must frequently run tests to calculate even the smallest amount of chemicals used to meet safety regulations.  "We just try to get the maximum use out of the chemicals at the lowest amount of chemicals," he says.  "[We're doing] everything that we can think of to lower our expenses, but it's still not enough."

Ball says the city will have to use money from a special projects fund, which is financed by four different cellular phone companies that lease antennae space on two water towers.  The 25-50 year leases bring in close to $15,000 per year, but they will still have to raise their prices for customers.  "We're not going to have any choice," he says.

He says he doesn't know how much the increase will be, but it will need to be enough to allow the city to pay its bills, and enough to offset unpaid bills.  The increased rates and fees are expected to be in effect by July.  City officials say they hope the increases will return the reserve accounts to a comfortable level by the end of 2008.