The good news for the Hope City Board of Directors here Tuesday night was that the City has options. The bad news is that they are all expensive, leaving the board with a prospective $7 million wastewater collection and treatment system overhaul over the next three years.
Texarkana engineer Glen Spears outlined for the board the possible scenarios in resolving rising problems with the City's wastewater collection system, also accounting for how those problems affect the accompanying wastewater treatment system.
Spears said the choice for the City was one of improving both systems without scrapping the two wastewater treatment plants operated by the City or starting over on the treatment plants while improving the wastewater collection system.
Either way, Spears said the City was facing as little as $3 million in repairs and as much as $7 million in repairs and replacement costs, excluding infrastructure needs.
Taking the alternatives in a three-year program, Spears said inflow and infiltration problems within the collection system could be addressed over each year in the program, while concentrating major treatment system repairs within this year. That would cost the City about $3.2 million this year, $1.7 million in 2014, and $2.1 million in 2015, he said.
A major factor in the decision making for the board is that the heart of the City's treatment system is healthy at both treatment plants. The problems lie in the parts of the system that are affected by the accompanying inflow and infiltration problem in the collection system, Spears said.
“With two treatment plants, you're doubling everything,” he said.
Spears emphasized that the associated costs in his proposal were “just guesstimates” because definitive engineering has not been done.
“I whittled about $3 million off and got it down,” he said. “You can spend what you want to spend, but, you've got to start somewhere.”
That was the question for the board, Mayor Dennis Ramsey noted.
“You have to look at it backwards on the bonds,” Ramsey said.
“You're patching up a 32-year old plant; but, the money you're spending is outside the treatment units,” Spears said. “All-in-all, they are in good shape where the treatment units are concerned.”
City Manager Catherine Cook pointed out that both wastewater treatment plants have consistently passed state testing and certification requirements, and have recently been given improved ratings by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality that allow the City to reduce testing frequencies each week.
“They are good for our wastewater needs,” Cook said. “They wouldn't be as good if you had a lot of industrial wastewater.”
Cook noted that the City's Black Branch interceptor project remains in good shape, and adds no costs to the proposal. She said City staff wanted to know the board's approach.
“There is a lot of work to be done,” Ramsey said. “With very low wastewater rates, if you raise them at all, the percentages go up.”
Page 2 of 2 - Yet, Ramsey said bond market rates are good for the City at this juncture, so that, “You can bite off a little more.”
Cook said any accompanying wastewater rate increases can be phased-in over time, but Ramsey warned against waiting too long.
“We're back to the same discussion we've had for years; are we going to put an escalator in there, and we don't do it,” he said.
Cook said that with a current base rate of $6.30 per thousand, wastewater rates in Hope are lower than water use rates, which is the reverse of what is typical in Arkansas. The key, she said, is how the board wants to target rates in connection with the work that needs to be done, while the City pays the remaining $2.4 million on its 2007 bond debt and current revolving debt.
No decision was reached Tuesday night, pending a definitive recommendation from the City staff.