Latest on City wide watermain line refurbishment. 

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Latest on City wide watermain line maintenance. 

The Dec 6th Council Work Session ended with Council planning on increasing the budget for Water Line replacement from $1.3 million to $4.5 million and increasing water rates by 7.5% (approximately $2.66 a month per costumer) immediately, with the promise of raising rates at least an and additional 7.5% a month in March.  This combination of increases is to cover $1 million dollars of the additional budgeted amount.   

Note that this duel 7.5% increase will be in addition to the 10% increase every year for the next 10 years already approved for the waste water portion of your bill.  According to the interim City Manager that increase will average: $1.21 cents a month in 2023, plus an additional $1.39 in 2024, then an additional $1.48 in 2025 plus the 2026 increase, etc etc.  until at least 2033. 

I must commend Council on how well this subject was discussed during the work session.  Though it is an extremely long discussion, I highly recommend listening to it because it contained a lot of different aspects without a ton of redundancy.

As good as the discussion turned out, here are couple of suggestion that would improve the chances of meeting the goal established by the five members of council.  Specifically, the goal of replacement of old and unreliable water mains.   

The first suggestion is to formally pass a motion telling the Interim City Manager to work diligently to get a defined amount of replacement pipe in the ground.  Though the five members of council did a good job of cutting through the deception presented by Staff and the Mayor, the one thing missing from the current solution is formal direction to look for and implement long term and economical solutions for getting pipe in the ground as quickly as possible.  During the recent discussion, these five members of council correctly pointed out that a year ago, they told staff they were all on board with getting $4 million dollars’ worth of pipe in the ground in 2022.   That didn’t happen. During this most recent discussion the interim city manager basically told these five members of council that even if they increase the budget to $4.5 million, he wasn’t planning on getting that pipe in the ground in 2023 and he was going to slow roll the process so that that level of commitment would not start to happen until mid-2024 or later.  The reason being is because he believes the $20 million dollar new city buildings are more important than the strength of the water system and there currently isn't enough money to do both.   

Despite Staff's greatest attempt to hide their reasoning from residents, because there are five members of council who take the water infrastructure issue seriously, we learned a lot during the open public discussion.  We learned the City Engineer already had about $3.2 million dollars’ worth of waterline  engineering work completed.  All that is needed is to acquire the pipe and award the contract.  We learned that for recent projects the city was able to order pipe in anticipation of other projects and then transfer that pipe to the company that eventually won the contract.  There does not appear to be any reason the pipe for a decent portion of the desired work cannot be ordered today.   In fact, given the totality of the entire discussion, if staff were committed to execute council’s wishes, the pipe would be on order today.  Besides this one aspect of the delay, there certainly are other avenues that staff could propose and implement if they were committed to this project.  they just aren't yet and the five members of council should pass a motion ensuring the interim City Manager knows their expectation.  

The second item that would help meet the goal would be for council to stop talking about the project in terms of dollars.  Instead they need to talk in terms of putting feet of pipe into the ground.  They should not direct staff to go spend $4.5 million dollars on watermain replacement.  Direction in those terms will not ensure the pipe that is installed is done in an efficient, cost effective manner.  They should look at the water report, determine how many total feet they will expect to be replaced and give staff direction to get so many feet of that pipe replaced in a certain time frame.    Yes, the current discussion was a budget discussion, but when these five members of council direct staff to go to work, that direction must be to get  xxx feet of pipe in the ground by ……….

That is the end of what is important to discuss as far as Monday’s Council Meeting.  It is not all that is important about either the funding of the water main project, or the discussion that occurred in the work session. 

Concerning the funding of the project, the Mayor and Staff attempted to deceive council and the public about what funds are available for water repairs.  As I stated earlier, that is because they plan to spend a large amount of money on the Brandt Pike Revitalization project.   The part of the Brandt Pike Revitialization project they mentioned is the construction of new city buildings.  Of course that is not the only money they are spending on that project.  Councilmember Kitchen rightly asked if delaying the $20 million city building construction effort for a year would help mitigate the bond rating issue staff brought up.  Unfortunately, she moved on from this subject before she got an answer.  The fact of the matter is that historically, this city has gone to the public to get support and funding for public buildings.  When I was elected Mayor in 2014 the City had already paid for the construction of the new Fire Station on Old Troy Pike through an income tax levy that was passed in 2005.   It just took a little leadership to get all of council on board to actually construct that facility. The building of City Hall and the Court Building was all resident approved.  In a completely opposite approach, all the current proposed construction is a direct result of a plan secretly discussed by council in executive session and not revealed to the public until the night council voted to spend $3.7 million dollars to start the project.   Since that initial spend, council has conducted many more executive sessions spending millions of more dollars and has never published an understandable account of how much has been spent or how much more is intended to be spent.   There has been no public reconciliation provided by Council telling us on how much net income or deficit is expected at the end of this process. 

That said there is the opportunity for council to put an advisory proposal on the ballot this May asking residents their thoughts on funding the water main refurbishment and the new public buildings.  We went to residents like this when we asked if residents wanted city wide water softening.  From the latest budget discussion, we see that current revenues can support providing strong water infrastructure or building new city buildings, but they can't support both.  Given the secrecy involved in how we are on the verge of receiving a bill for at least $20 million for new city building, it makes sense to ask residents if they even support this construction and if so, how they would like to pay for it.  The option could be another income tax levy, a property tax levy or take it out of the General Fund.  If residents decide to go with General Fund option then there currently isn't enough money to pay for the water infrustructure project and council probably would decided to increase water rates even higher than what they plan to do on Monday.  Guidance on what residents believe is the best way to approach these projects can be cheaply and effectively achieved through a non-binding ballot measure this May.  Council should put it on the ballot.  It worked for water softening, it will work for these projects as well.       

Concerning what needs to be discussed about the last Work Session discussion, I don’t have time to write that out now.  However, when first thinking about the construction of this article my first titles went something like:

Mayor and Staff try to deceive the public but five members of council stop them.


Boondoggle or Strong Public Infrastructure

If you decide to listen to the meeting hopefully you can see why articles with these titles could have been constructed.