City moves loan ahead
CHRISMAN – The Chrisman City Council moved closer to borrowing $750,000 for upgrading the sewer plant during the Monday, March 5, city meeting.
Sewer commissioner Rick Jenness continued voicing opposition to the $1.2 million project stating it does not address the main problem of rainwater infiltration into the sanitary sewer, which overwhelms the treatment plant and creates a situation where the treatment process is out of synchronization.
According to Jenness, reducing infiltration, fixing the trickling filter and replacing sand in the sand filters is a step-by-step process that can address the city’s problems at a lower cost.
Matt Johnson of Fehr Graham Engineering & Environmental partially agreed with Jenness regarding infiltration, noting that is generally the biggest problem all communities encounter with a sewer plant. He added reducing infiltration from home sump pumps, tile lines or other intrusions is a good practice but the reality is it cannot be completely stopped.
“If it was easy to get rid of, they (other towns) wouldn’t have that problem,” said Johnson. “Chrisman isn’t unique because it has infiltration. What is unique about Chrisman is it doesn’t have an excess facility to shunt water around the system for blending later.”
Johnson disagreed that replacing the media in the sand filters is a fix without first building the excess flow clarifier capable of holding back more than 1 million gallons of water. He said replacing the media in the two sand filters will cost $600,000 for just the material and the first heavy rain causing an overflow in the treatment plant discharging sludge onto the sand filters will render them useless.
The other issue is the short life of sand filters, which require media replacement every 10 years. Johnson pointed out taking the approach advocated by Jenness will still cost the city $1.2 million in 20 years for a system that likely will not stay in compliance with environmental regulations if other work is not done.
Jenness acknowledged the media in the city’s sand filters is 20 years overdue for replacement.
Chrisman’s sewage treatment plant dates from the 1960s and has a capacity to treat approximately 250,000 gallons of wastewater each day. What Johnson has proposed is a system that moves excess water into a settlement process for solids to drop out. The water gets disinfected, goes around the system and is blended with treated water for discharge.
“This has already been reviewed and approved by the EPA,” said Johnson. “It is a gravity process. There are no pumps to fail.”
Some discussion focused on what borrowing $750,000 at 2.125 percent interest will do to monthly sewer bills for city residents. Johnson said without completing an expensive rate study it is impossible to provide an exact number. He did look at the audit for the city’s fiscal year that ended April 2017 and made projections from that data including a $9 rate increase the city added after the audit.
Residents currently pay $32 a month for sewage treatment. That amount, Johnson said, is adequate to cover the operation and maintenance of the sewer plant and finance the loan. He cautioned it doesn’t leave enough for funding a depreciation amount against future expenses.
“The sewer plant is going to need work sometime in the next 30 years,” Johnson said.
He added before the council approved the $9 rate increase Chrisman was not putting enough back for depreciation, and he said the plant has some catching up to do in the way of repairs.
Based on Johnson’s calculation, Chrisman residents need to pay $45 monthly for sewer service to cover operation costs, repay the loan and fund depreciation at 100 percent.
“If we fully fund depreciation at $45 a month, we can start making needed repairs within a couple of years,” said Johnson, a lessor amount will delay the start of the repairs. He added towns rarely fund depreciation at 100 percent.
It was noted rather than adding another $13 immediately to the sewer charge it is possible to continue at the current rate with scheduled increases over the next 10 years.
Johnson stressed the city cannot argue against making changes because borrowing is too expensive since the debt service is 1.2 percent of the sewer department revenue stream. The EPA says 1.5 percent is affordable.
“We don’t have that argument to make,” said Johnson.
Following a bit more discussion, Johnson said the next step was for the council to decide if Fehr Graham is to prepare the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development Loan application and have an attorney create the necessary ordinances.
Mayor Dan Owen supported moving ahead with seeking the loan.
“The state has been after us for years, and we have an injunction against us,” said Owen, asking for a motion authorizing Fehr Graham to continue. “We’ve fought this sewer plant for 20 years.”
Normally the sewer commissioner is responsible for such a motion, but Jenness sat quietly. Commissioner Jerry Hoult finally made the motion. When Jenness refused to second it, Commissioner Tim Owen provided the second adding failing to seek the loan might jeopardize the $450,000 grant the city received for sewer plant work.
The motion passed with Mayor Owen, Commissioner Owen, Hoult and Commissioner Rodney Wolfe voting in the affirmative. Jenness voted no.