SAINT ROBERT, Mo. (Nov. 29, 2008) — Members of the St. Robert Public Works Committee gave the green light during their Tuesday evening meeting to plans that would spend more than a half-million dollars to replace two deteriorating sewer lift stations near Taco Bell on Missouri Avenue and the city’s trash transfer station behind the community center.
Alderman Allan Johannsen and City Administrator Norman Herren review budget data and upcoming loan repayment schedules.
Final decisions are made by the full city council, not the committees. City Administrator Norman Herren said he plans to present a budget update at the Monday, Dec. 1, meeting of the city council and plans to present a final budget for adoption at the Dec. 15 meeting.
“It’s going to be very important that we build a true and accurate budget, and if we have emergencies come up, which we do have every year, we’re going to have to immediately make some decisions,” Herren said. “You can see there by the needs we have in the city, we’re not going to be able to fund them all. Your challenge, as a public works committee, is to give (department heads) some input.”
Part of the problem, city staff members said, is that the trash transfer station generates waste water that is highly acidic and is eating away metal and pumping equipment. Installing a larger sewer lift station would dilute the acidity and prolong the life of the new lift station. It would also allow service to more customers who are expected to be added as the area behind Auto Zone develops, Herren said.
Finding money for a $560,000 sewer lift station won’t be easy in a $15.5 million budget that anticipates no revenue increases, Herren acknowledged, since regular pay and insurance premium increases will add $330,000 to last year’s budget and the city department heads requested a total of $630,000 in capital projects. That means Herren is faced with a need to cut department requests back by about $1.2 million.
“We don’t have any other major businesses coming in like we did with Lowe’s (Home Improvement). I’m going to take a gamble — I’m going to call it revenue neutral,” Herren said. “We need to start setting out priorities—what do we have to have and what can we cut out of the budget.”
However, Herren said it will be cheaper for the city to do the work with its own staff than to pay an estimated $740,000 to contract the work out.
“We now have the manpower, equipment and expertise to do these projects on our own,” Herren said. “Just another point that the equipment that you bought over the last few years is paying you great dividends.”
Alderman Ed Spotts said he’s concerned by the frequency with which sewer lift stations come before the council.
“The pump stations seem like a reoccurring nightmare. It seems like no matter what we do, pump stations go out and cause problems,” Spotts said. “Why aren’t we looking at what may be a very costly investment, a treatment plant? … In my opinion I think we really need to look at that rather than pumping everything somewhere else.”
Jeff Meadows of Archer Engineering, who serves as the city engineer, said that’s probably not realistic. The flow levels currently don’t justify a new treatment plant, Meadows said, and the discharge for a new treatment plant at the southern end of St. Robert would be into the Roubidoux Creek which has to have discharge levels at almost drinking-level quality to receive a permit. A million-gallon treatment plant would cost $10 to $12 per gallon, he said; the existing million-gallon sewage treatment plant has a current flow of about 700,000 gallons and can be expanded to 1.5 million gallons.
“Our biggest goal has been to eliminate as many of these pump stations as possible because they are already at their design life,” Meadows said.
Even so, there are still 54 pump stations left around St. Robert, Meadows said.
Spotts said he’s concerned that some businesses may not be using proper sewage disposal techniques at all.
“I know there are businesses out there that who knows where their effluent is going right now,” Spotts said. “Every time we have to repair one of these pump stations we are losing money that could be used somewhere else.”
Meadows said all businesses inside the St. Robert city limits are having their sewage treated properly.
Herren said the cost with bank financing for a single large new sewer pump station would be about $77,000 per year for a $560,000 project.
“Is this a little bit early? Is there a need for this?” Spotts asked.
“Yes, it’s drastic,” Herren said.
“We’ve got one pump out and another that’s about to fall in,” said Alderman Bill Shaw.
Alderman Alan Johannsen asked how many years it will take to pay off the city’s loans on the existing sewer treatment plant and said it may make more sense to consider a new sewer plant after the existing plant is paid off. Herren said there are four different loan plans ranging from 2012, in which $229,000 annual payments and $67,000 annual payments are paid off, with some loans running out to 2021.
Other sewer system problems are also serious, according to Meadows, such as reducing the city’s inflow and infiltration of groundwater and stormwater into the sanitary sewer system. New regulations by the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources will make that a necessity soon, Meadows warned.
Meadows said a standard municipal practice for many years has been that during high volume usage, cities have run “peak flow clarification systems” that bypasses the full treatment process for sewage. That’s been acceptable in the past but no longer is acceptable, Meadows said.
“The EPA and DNR have been under fire for the last few years from environmentalist groups … The EPA has come down on DNR and said we are going to assist you in insisting that these cities address inflow and infiltration issues,” Meadows said. “If DNR says we have to get rid of that peak flow clarifier, either we have to go in and built one huge sewer treatment plant, which is not cost-effective, or we have to reduce our inflow and infiltration.
“We’re actually saving ourselves a lot of money but also meeting what we perceive will be the new DNR regulations, and then we will have no choice,” Herren said.
Steps are already being taken to address the problem, Thomas said, including that some manholes in low-lying areas have been raised to keep them from being submerged.
“Do we have one of those peak-flow clarifiers?” Spotts asked.
“Yes, we do,” Meadows said. “That’s not an indictment on the city of St. Robert, it is the way all cities do things.”
In other public works budget issues:
• Thomas said the Caterpillar company has decided to get out of the government leasing business for now and John Deere will charge about $15,000 more per year for backhoes than the previous city lease with Caterpillar. The Case company will write a lease but Thomas said Case is a “non-player” due to excessive costs.
• Fuel expenses continue to be a concern, Thomas said.
“We tried to keep real good tabs on fuel expense this year,” Thomas said. “We’ve topped off the tanks, both the gas and the diesel tanks, and we’re pretty much set until February. “The one good thing that happened this year was the old pump station six went offline and from everything I’m seeing that’s saving us 40 gallons of diesel fuel a day.
• City officials were able to obtain 75 tons of rock salt for snow removal, which augments 20 tons that St. Robert had in a bunker and 10 tons that were already mixed with cinders or other items for spreading on the roads. The price has risen from $64 per ton last year to $150 per ton this year, Thomas warned.
• Thomas said the gas department will be the last to receive safer air-powered rather than electric tools, and should get them soon.
“When I first got here, it was the craziest thing I’d ever seen, guys standing in a ditch up to their knees in water with electrical equipment and an extension cord running down to them. It was a big safety issue,” Thomas said.
• Thomas reported that replacement of Pump Station Six has eliminated complaints about odor problems for the area near Bassett Insurance, Other Mothers and a nearby trailer court.
• City staff members explained proposals to install a $25,000 meter vault system in the Lower Mini-Mall replacing meters they said are “almost impossible to work on.”
• A planned new valve system will allow city workers to deal with water main breaks on Highway Y without shutting down water service to four hotels, the Cracker Barrel restaurant, and the Carmel Valley Way neighborhood.
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