The Quincy Community Service District board took the first major step in a process to possibly repair the district’s sewer system at the Tuesday, June 10, board meeting.
The board has been discussing issues with the system for years.Most of the sewer is still composed of clay pipes from the ‘60s or, in many cases, empty dirt tunnels where pipes used to exist.
Despite this fact, the board is more than aware that trying to sell a multi-million dollar repair project to ratepayers is less than palatable in the current political and economic climate.
The district has been working with Pace Engineering, out of Redding, for some time, trying to narrow down a project scope that would be affordable and economically efficient.
The board has looked at potential projects ranging from a large $5.6 million fix to a $3.6 million initial work scope, with an additional $2 million or so around five years later.
At the most recent meeting the board voted 4-0, with director Dick Castaldini absent, to approve a $4.3 million project scope.
The directors spent much of the May meeting discussing the pros and cons of various project sizes.
Director Denny Churchill said it was a tough balance to strike because increasing customer’s rates from $27 to $46 to pay for a $5.6 million project was difficult to stomach, even if it seemed like construction rates would never get any more affordable than right now.
Keith Krantz, representing Pace, said he understood that it was a tough environment for rate increases right now, but wanted the board to know that material prices were beginning to move up.
He said that upward movement was included in the estimates he provided.
At that meeting, Castaldini said this seemed like impossible timing to ask for a rate increase. “You know people Aug. 31 are going to be voting on a hospital.”
He suggested the board should try to keep rates below $38.
Director Jim Bequette said he understood where Castaldini was coming from but thought the district should get bang for its buck while construction costs were low, and avoid having to increase rates twice in less than 10 years.
“If people are going to vote against it, I think they’re going to vote against it regardless of the amount,” he argued.
East Quincy Service District manager Mary Henrici added that people on her side of the hill were already paying over $40 per month for sewer services.
Churchill agreed, “We weren’t charging enough is basically what it boils down to. We have not been charging enough all these years and now it’s come home to roost.”
“Say we knock it down to, pair it down to a $3 million project now. What’s one of the first questions people are going to ask us?” Bequette queried.
“When are we gonna come back for another rate increase?” Castaldini responded, with Bequette nodding in agreement.
Castaldini said he understood that point but “I don’t know what’s more palatable, Jim.”
“There’s a lot of people out there in our community that are really hurting from a dollar standpoint, and I just question putting a $20 per month burden on a lot of retirees that are living on Social Security right now.”
At the May meeting, the decision to choose a $4.3 million project came down to an attempt to strike a balance between spending money efficiently and keeping rates down.
QCSD manager Larry Sullivan reminded the board that rates would have to rise to $38.15 per month for the US Department of Agriculture loan system to allow the project to receive grants.
The board determined that the $4.3 million project option would raise rates to around $42 per month.
Churchill and Sullivan agreed there was a good chance the district would get a 20 percent grant, lowering that number by around $800,000.
They said there was a decent shot that the district could get the maximum $1 million grant from USDA.
Board secretary Katie Gay said that would put the rates around $40 per month.
The board members then discussed the fact that they would have to apply for a loan for the full amount and propose raising rates by the full amount.
If the district gets the grants from USDA and, it hopes, others from sources like the stimulus package, it would have to raise the rates the full $42 initially and would be able to lower them back down when the funding was secured.
This means the rates paid by customers would be lower than those approved.
The project itself would focus on major repairs and replacements of sewer mains in four of the district’s sub-basins, with less broad repairs on “severe deficiencies” in the other three.
All customers who don’t have a “two-way cleanout” would get one at their property line.
Cleanouts help the district work on its side of the system and also allow customers to unclog their side or address backflow issues.
Paul Reuter, another Pace representative, said the new PVC pipes shouldn’t experience any problems for at least 75 years, compared to the current clay pipes, which degrade completely or are invaded by roots that can create blockages in the system.
On the topic of selling the repairs to the public, Reuter said the board should talk about the fact that pieces of the system would have to be replaced as they failed in the near future.
He said spot repairs carried out in that fashion would be more expensive in the long run and the district would also have to pay for cleanup and possibly face more regulations when sewers overflowed.
Director Ruth Jackson said the situation was “kinda like saying your car is working and then all the sudden one day it quits and, if you’re like me and you don’t know that much about what’s under the hood, you think it’s fine until it won’t go.”
Krantz said this kind of project would lower the amount of rainwater and groundwater entering the system and plant by 50 percent, which he argued would extend the life of pumps and other equipment.
Sullivan argued another important point for customers to understand was that no significant work had been done on the sewer system since the 1960s.
The board also discussed the possibility that some customers might be asked to make repairs on their side of the property line someday in the distant future to extend the life of the plant, but the directors agreed they couldn’t justify asking for that when there were still issues to address on the district’s end.
Krantz said on a total guess he would say 20 percent of customers might have issues that would need to be addressed years from now.
He said those types of repairs could cost from $500-$3,000 depending on how far a person’s house was from the road.
At a previous consolidation meeting EQSD and QCSD agreed that projects like this would continue to be paid for by people from the original districts that approved the projects, even if the two consolidate.
This means that QCSD ratepayers would vote on the project and would pay for it.
Rate increases for sewer customers require a 50 percent protest vote to be denied, meaning half of all ratepayers, not just half of those who vote, would have to mail in a “no” vote to stop the project.
This year’s rate increase has already occurred; funding for this project won’t be voted on until next year at the earliest.
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