Water, sewer issue debated

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

CARAWAY - The Caraway City Council entered into a lengthy discussion on current water and sewer conditions and potential solutions at the regular city council meeting held Thursday, June 10.

Mayor Barry Riley reported ongoing water and sewer conditions are of great concern to the city. He recognized Terry Couch, Water and Sewer Department superintendent, who gave an overview of the current situation.

"We have a two percent increase in water every year but need an increase in the sewer rates as well," Couch said. "Our system is coming apart. We fix it and patch it, but that is just a band-aid approach. We need to replace lines in the worst way. They will just keep getting worse, and we will have to do something.

"I have studied increases from two to ten percent to see if that would allow us enough money to buy the equipment and get the work done. We might consider raising water rates $2.50 for the first 1,000 gallons of water used by each customer, and $2.50 to basic sewer use. That would allow us money to buy the equipment to get the job done without going into a big debt to borrow the money.

"If an emergency arises we will have to tear up streets and risk being without water completely. We have 17 miles of water lines and 34 percent of them are in trouble. Almost all of our sewer lines are a problem. We have repaired all we can without trench box and excavation equipment.

"We risk losing service if we are going to dig at great depth. I am afraid we will get to the point we can't fix it at all.

"The life of a system is considered 40 years," Couch said. "Our water system was put in during the late 1940s and our sewer system in 1962. We have $76,000 in our accounts to start with now."

Alderman Diane Powell asked, "How many times have you had the pipes busted in the last three months?"

Mayor Riley counted eight times.

"You told me this was coming," Powell said.

"I don't know the answer to this problem, but I do know that doing nothing is not the answer," Couch said. "I cringe when I have to turn a worn out pump on in a lift station. By the book we are supposed to put back six percent of our revenue for depreciation to take care of future problems. We have not done that."

"I hate to raise rates, but we have to come up with a better solution," Alderman Roger Williams said.

"Right now we are just patching things," Couch said. "I have noticed streets starting to cave in next to man holes."

"Going eight or 10 feet underground is not safe and I don't want you to risk your lives," Powell said.

"Are there some emergency grants to help us out?" Williams said.

"I plan to check it out and see what there is out there," Riley said. "There are grants to replace sewer lines, but we would have to borrow money to do it."

"My job is to keep the system going," Couch said. "When something goes down I don't call all of you. I just go out and fix it to the best of my ability. I fear it will come to a point that I can't fix it, and we will be without service."

"With a two percent water and sewer increase, we would just be breaking even on our repairs," Alderman Mark Bell said. "Even 10 percent increase would just be a drop in a bucket as far as our problems go."

"We couldn't break even," Couch said. "It is overwhelming for me to thing about it. I'm not throwing a fit about this but hope people of this town will look at a reason for any increase."

"How many people have had services cut off in a month?" Riley asked. "If they can't pay now, how could they pay an increase?"

"About 10 or 12 a month," Couch said. "Not because they are elderly and couldn't pay, but rather that they were negligent people."

"We need to look at grants for a little while, but we have to do something," Williams said.

"With an increase we might never gain on the problem in time," Riley said. "Plus it would be a burden to people on a fixed income. When I took office we were behind, and we have steadily built up to having $40,000 put back. This is going to be very expensive, and we will need a grant to help us."

"Terry, we are not brushing you off on this problem, but we have to be able to make it on what we can afford to do," Williams said.

"Our city is made up of 60 percent of people on Social Security, retired, or working in factories," Riley said. "We have to consider them when we make a decision on this."

"Little towns have no choice but to borrow money to make repairs," Couch said. "The sewer lines are in worse shape than the water lines. Some sewer lines are so bad, I am afraid to clean them. We spend about two and a half hours every morning just checking lines before we can actually get out there and work. We are almost in an emergency situation.

"If we had the equipment we could do the work ourselves and not have to go so far in debt," Couch said. "It is easier for us to borrow money, but I am not geared like that. If we can fix it ourselves, we can do it cheaper than working through a grant with contractors."

"Terry wants to buy equipment so we can do our own work and not hire contractors," Riley said. "I need some time to see what we can do on this problem."

The council agreed to table the issue until Mayor Riley had time to review possible grants and funding.

Mayor Riley gave an overview of city concerns.

Batteries for the tornado siren are listed at $185 each and the council will check on how many are needed to make the siren operable in case electricity is lost.

The city factory building is ready for leasing, and plans are for the building to be occupied by the middle of July. The current lease payment is $500 per month.

Necessary soil samples and preliminary requirements have been made at the vacant Basler Electric building required for releasing the building to the city.

Clean-up details are in place to prepare for the annual Fourth of July celebration.

Cemetery caretakers have been updated on city requirements for regular upkeep and maintenance.

Alderman Bo James reported need for repair on the narrowing condition and drop-off of Asher's Ditch.

Councilman Williams commended Merle Langston for the large amounts of time he spends keeping up the fire station property.

"Merle does a great job and we appreciate it," Williams said.

The next regularly scheduled council meeting will be 6 p.m. Thursday, July 8 at Caraway City Hall.

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