The average customer in Van Buren will see an increase of $6.50 in water and sewer bills.

Members of the Van Buren City Council voted 6-0 Monday night to grant requests by Van Buren Municipal Utilities to raise rates, effective the first January.

The increases are the first since 2005 for sewer rates; the first since 2011 for water, according to Steve Dufresne, director of VBMU.

Dufresne said funds from the higher sewer rates will go toward implementing system improvements and upgrading routine cleaning and maintenance services. Money from the new water rates will go to the operation and maintenance of the water system, he said.

"A lot of time and study has gone into this," Dufresne told the council. "Some of the sewer system was put in during the ‘40s and ‘50s and parts of it are falling apart. There also is a lot of grass and roots in the system."

Some expenses are directly related to Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality regulations, he noted.

Dufresne said VBMU plans to invest about $10 million over the next 20 years improving and cleaning the sewer system.

He said the water rate increase will go into the capital improvement fund to address problems in the future. He noted the system still utilizes some of the original water lines installed in 1893.

Mayor Bob Freeman and members of the council commended Dufresne and the VBMU staff for the keeping the city’s water and sewer systems in good working order.

Freeman also pointed out the increases have nothing to do with the problems Fort Smith is having with its water and sewer systems.

Also, the council voted to purchase three 2016 Ford utility police interceptors and one Ford Fusion for the police department.

The utility vehicles will be purchased from Landers Ford through the Arkansas State Contract at a cost of $25,480 each for a total of $76,440.

The Fusion will be brought for $16,496.50 from North Point Ford, also through the state purchase contact. Its cost will be offset by $10,107.17 in federal forfeiture funds and $6,389.33 from insurance funds for a 2006 Chevrolet Impala, which was totaled.

Aldermen voted to removed the totaled Impala from the city’s fixed asset inventory.

The council voted 6-0 to award a service sidearm to Cpl. Cletus Hudson upon his retirement from the Van Buren Police Department Oct. 17. The council wanted to recognize Hudson’s for his 18 years of service as a police officer. The sidearm is a Glock 22 Generation 4 .40-caliber pistol.

In other action Monday, the alderman unanimously voted to appoint Leslie Spangler to the Housing Authority Board and Melissa McGuire to the Advertising and Promotion Commission. It also voted to close certain streets for the Sparks Medical Center - Van Buren Stampede 5K race Oct. 24, the Veterans Day parade Nov. 11 and King Elementary School Run With the Knights 5K Feb. 27.