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To start or not to start: Council continues to wrangle over UEP trigger point

By Staff | Oct 6, 2011

After two years of meetings aimed specifically at solving the Utilities Expansion Project conundrum, city council continues to debate how to best move it forward.

Wednesday’s workshop found council not discussing as expected the recently submitted Burton Rate study, which examined the city’s water, sewer and irrigation rates and their relation to different UEP solutions, but instead the value, or danger, of restarting any portion of the UEP.

Councilman Kevin McGrail said bringing water to the north is the most realistic approach, since the reverse osmosis facility exists and is sitting idle.

McGrail said the Burton rate study clearly shows that using the capacity of the North RO plant would have a positive effect on the rates, but council has to come up with a plan and not just talk about it.

“If you don’t look. you’re not going to find a solution. That’s why we’ve been having these meetings for two years,” he said.

Mayor John Sullivan cautioned that moving forward without a plan was dangerous, especially without a re-tooled assessment methodology. The mayor said property owners with large tracts of land would be unduly penalized.

Sullivan said the methodology for the north would have to be different from that which served the southern portion of the city.

Council has not addressed that methodology during its Committee of the Whole workshops.

“There’s a lot of things we have to take into consideration before we jump into this. One of those things is the assessment methodology,” Sullivan said. “It’s obvious we can’t use the same in the north as we did in the south.”

City Manager Gary King said the Burton Rate study a “very complex matter,” one that would eventually be brought forward for council’s consideration.

King said his staff was working on a “target restart” that would focus on small, bite-sized chunks of the UEP, using a combination of in house staff and contractors to do the work.

“We’re not sitting here idly waiting for someone to say, go do this please,” King told council, who said more options will be brought forward.

Meanwhile, the infill assessment option, which calls for a fee to be levied on properties where utilities are available but not yet connected, will likely come before council after the Nov. 8 city council election.

Currently, the levy, an impact fee, is not due until the property connects to the system.

Four seats are open. Three of the races have incumbents seeking re-election.

The first public hearing is scheduled for Nov. 14. The prevailing council candidates are expected to be sworn, or re-sworn, in that same day.

City Business Manager Mike Ilzyszyn said a tight timeline is expected if the council, whomever may be seated, wants to move forward with the proposal.

“There’s very little room to get this done,” Ilzyszyn said.