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Council to meet on UEP issues

By Staff | Jan 30, 2010

By DREW WINCHESTER , dwinchester@breezenewspapers.co
City council plans on digging back into the highly controversial utility expansion project in February, hoping to find a way to reduce the burden on current ratepayers before utility bills truly spiral out of control.
Starting on Feb.17, city council will start holding regular meetings on the subject.
While the council will undoubtedly tackle rate reduction at that first meeting, council member Pete Brandt said working on the rates alone won’t simply be enough.
Brandt said council needs to eventually prioritize the project’s issues as a whole before they can move forward.
“The rates are the highest priority thing we need to do, but I’m hoping to list all the other issues we’ll have to address in later meetings,” Brandt said.
Mayor John Sullivan has already volleyed an idea on how to reduce the rates by charging a fee to all property owners who have not paid impact fees for being hooked up to city water roughly $300 – $400 a year, per property.
The annual charge would help to offset the monthly utility rates being paid by current rate payers, and help to pay down the debt of the North RO Water Plant, according to Sullivan.
While the idea has been met with mixed criticism so far, all of council agrees that something must be done to reduce costs, and reduce debt on the water plant.
Council member Eric Grill said he doesn’t foresee any new information coming out of this first meeting.
Grill does think the Northwest Ecosystem Spreader Agreement — due in March — will eventually force council’s hand to move forward with the UEP regardless, so he wants to focus on those section directly effected by the agreement.
“My position is, we need to look in Southwest 6/7 and the west side of Burnt Store Road for expansion,” he said.
Public comment will be allowed at the workshop, though it will likely come after the council has its initial discussion.
While the past council was met with open hostility from the public regarding the UEP, neither Grill nor Brandt thinks the same reaction will accompany this new council’s first workshop on the matter since no decisions will be made.
Councilmember Marty McClain said it’s important the public know the new council plans on trying to solve the UEP conundrum, starting with the rates, and a positive conversation in February.
“There’s no need to relive the past,” McClain said.
City council plans on having UEP workshops on the first and third Tuesday of each month.