Waynesville councilmen urge ‘yes’ vote today in sewer bond election
By: Darrell Todd Maurina
Posted: Tuesday, June 2, 2009 4:41 pm
WAYNESVILLE, Mo. (June 2, 2009) — Voters within the city limits of Waynesville have until 7 p.m. today to cast their ballots in a special election to authorize borrowing $6.5 million for sewer and water projects.
Only one polling place will be open at Waynesville Middle School. The precinct opened at 6 a.m. and will close at 7 p.m.
The vote requires a simple majority of 50 percent, according to Mayor Cliff Hammock.
While most similar bond votes are intended to raise taxes to pay for a loan, city officials have emphasized that the vote won’t raise taxes. In fact, according to city council members, the vote will prevent the city from needing to seek higher interest commercial financing for sewer and water projects that they expect will soon be required by federal regulatory agencies. The bonding proposal will allow Waynesville city officials to apply for funding from a state-operated revolving fund that uses economic stimulus money from President Barack Obama’s American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.
The current interest rate from the state revolving fund is about 2 percent compared to 5 to 6 percent interest from conventional commercial financing, with an expected savings in interest of more than $2 million over the life of the loan.
“It will save substantial interest fees for the city as well as allowing us to obtain pre-plan money as part of the process,” said Hammock during a May 21 public hearing for the bond vote.
City Administrator Bruce Harrill and Sewer Superintendent Danny Graves explained that the money to pay the bonds will come from utility rates paid by users of the Waynesville sewer treatment system, including those in Hunters’ Point who are on the Pulaski County Sewer District. City officials plan to increase the rates to the sewer district to make sure both city residents and those living outside the city whose sewage is treated by the city pay for the cost of upgrading the treatment plants.
Some of the money may not have to be paid back at all, Harrill said, noting that he’s applying for $2 million in grant money. The actual expected total cost is $5.2 million, Harrill said; the extra bond authorization was requested to assure additional funding is available if needed.
“Why are we doing this? We do need to upgrade our treatment plant to comply with DNR and EPA rules. We think we have about a five-year time frame to accomplish this mission,” Harrill said.
Failure to comply with state Department of Natural Resources rules and federal Environmental Protection Agency rules could result in the city being fined $10,000 per day, Harrill said. Fines usually aren’t imposed on cities that are making a good-faith effort to improve their sewer systems, but Harrill said the fines are not mere technicalities.
“We just met with a representative from the Missouri Public Utilities Alliance … and he said one city in Missouri was fined $750,000,” Harrill said. “That’s not chump change, and that’s of course something we want to avoid.”
The root of the problem, Harrill said, is a new federal regulation that all stormwater running into a sewer treatment plant must be treated before it’s released. Waynesville, like many cities, now has rainwater mixing with its sewage and that causes overflows during heavy rainfall. While some of the “inflow and infiltration” can be fixed by cleaning out sewer lines and sealing cracks, that won’t solve the entire problem.
Harrill said Waynesville currently has a treatment plant that can handle 1.2 million gallons per day and has an overflow basin that can collect an additional 1.5 million gallons for treatment after the rain ends.
“Sometimes when we get rains we can get three to five million gallons, and our plant cannot hold it. It will flow over into the Roubidoux which is not a good thing,” Harrill said.
Graves explained that the city’s average daily flow is now 750,000 gallons, but that continues to increase. The proposed expansion of the sewer plant would increase the storage capacity to 4 million gallons in addition to the 1.2 million gallon treatment basin.
“That should eliminate any need for us to go into the Roubidoux Creek as we are now,” Graves said.
Additional work on the treatment plant will add clarifiers to separate solids from liquids and “go green” by moving from a chlorine-based disinfectant process to an ultraviolet light process.
Harrill said city officials are working to reduce the amount of stormwater running into the system. A recent sewer project on Elm and Elliott streets substantially improved the underground sewer and water lines as well as the surface pavement; work is currently underway on the Pearson Hollow sewer project running from First Christian Church of Waynesville to the Taggee Trailer Court area to upgrade the sewer system in that area and reduce the amount of stormwater entering the sewer lines. Additional sewer line work is underway from the area of the Freewill Baptist Church to the Glen Haven subdivision, he said.
Reducing sewer infiltration from stormwater has additional benefits, Graves said, since it cleans out root blockages in the sewer lines and improves water flow.
“I got a call last spring from an individual whose basement was constantly being flooded; it was dry as a bone from sewage. It worked,” Graves said.
Harrill said there is no assurance Waynesville will receive the grant and stimulus fund loan package, but Waynesville is on a contingency list — a stage that only about 5 percent of the applying communities have reached.
Graves said it’s not unusual for cities to have to increase their rates by two to four times due to the required infrastructure upgrades. The average Waynesville sewer bill with the project will increase to an estimated $26 per month but would be about $10 beyond that without the grant and stimulus loan.
Responding to questions from Hammock, Harrill said the bond is expected to run 15 to 20 years.
Councilwoman Luge Hardman said she was asked a question by a local resident about the vote, and passed that question on to Harrill and Graves.
“They were very concerned that the sewer district pay their fair share of it,” Hardman said. “My response was we had raised their rates and in fact may even raise them further.”
Harrill confirmed that’s true, and noted that if the population grows the rate increase would be lower since the costs would be spread among more residents.
Council members unanimously urged passage of the bond.
“I never like to say that we need to raise rates or anything like that, but this is needed,” said Councilwoman Diana Stanford. “We need to get out and vote. It is for cheaper money than we can get otherwise and that’s what we need to vote for.”
“There are times when you just need to make a decision and make it happen,” said Councilman Butch O’Riley.
“The bottom line is we’re going to have to do this no matter what the vote is,” Hardman said. “Even if the citizens say no to this, we’re going to have to do this, it’s just going to cost us $4 million more.”
Councilman Ed Conley concurred, calling it a “no-brainer.”
“And I want to make sure the sewer district understands that they’re going to pay their share,” Conley said.
Councilwoman Twyla Cordry said she’s “always concerned about the fixed income people” but noted that the alternative is even higher rates, not lower rates.
“This is absolutely critical to the future well-being of our city and our ability to grow and expand in the cheapest way possible,” said Councilman Mike France, who chairs the Waynesville Utility Committee. “This is going to be paid back in our utility bills over time.”
France also emphasized that the proposal isn’t a tax and assured residents that the sewer district will be required to pay for part of the upgrade.
Hammock closed the public comment section by noting that upcoming commercial subdivision growth is expected to increase the amount of sewer usage, and said “it is very important” to pass the bond issue.