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The former City Council took a gamble in March betting that voters would approve a bond issue for upgrades to the South Wastewater Plant. What they didn’t bet on was a new council not wanting to roll the dice.
No action was taken Thursday night during a special meeting of the council to decide whether or not they would place the issue on the August ballot. The council has until next Tuesday to decide; however the decision has been made.
Councilwoman Terrie Stanley said she is hearing strong opposition to a bond from the residents she has spoken with. Furthermore Stanley pointed to four projects that need to be completed before the sewer plant is addressed. She listed disinfection requirements at the North Wastewater plant, a lime sludge issue at the city water plant, stormwater infiltration and a slumping hillside at the South Wastewater Plant. Stanley said she did not feel comfortable with a November ballot issue either.
“I believe these are our priorities right now so my suggestion is this is on the back burner for quite some time,” she said.
Another concern was the jump in costs. Early estimates had the plant coming in under $6 million, however latest cost estimates have the project exceeding $8 million.
Project Engineer Jeff Thorn said nearly $1 million of the estimate is for cost overruns. Additionally he said the variables have changed from the original proposal.
“I don’t want to mislead the people and say we need this out here,” Stanley said. “We’re dealing with $8 million here. I’m looking out for them and I don’t see it as feasible right now.”
Stanley said she had spent three days on the phone with representatives of the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. She said they told her the plant does not need to be addressed now but did tell her the four priorities she listed are things DNR has their eye on.
A handful of citizens spoke out against a bond. Last week City Administrator Rick Childers said water bills could increase by $7 on a typical $100 bill. However he changed that estimate this week to $15. Former Councilman Jim Rippy urged the council to fix the problems at hand with little impact to resident’s pocketbooks.
“You all have a tremendous obligation to how to figure this out. The real world it isn’t $7,” Rippy said. “These people just want to flush their toilet now. Find ways to fix the problems we got with minimum damage to our money.”
Those in favor of moving forward said the problem isn’t going away and more problems are on the horizon. Mayor Lance Green pointed to the South plant’s permit in 2013. The city has been told the stormwater clarifier at the plant will be disallowed creating a need for increased capacity during storms.
Others had questions about other’s optimism that the community will grow. Councilman Roger Kepple said the city’s population has been consistent for 75 years. Others in the crowd also said they’ve seen little growth.
Green said there is growth, like the new KFC/Taco Bell coming to town.
Councilman Jason Berning said he doesn’t want to miss out on potential stimulus funding or grant money. He also said costs could increase the longer the city waits.
“It won’t be any cheaper to do it down the road,” Berning said. “If we don’t go down the path in the next year or so we for sure won’t get any. If we don’t make decisions we won’t get any grant money. I know right now there is money available.”
Berning said he contacted four of Richmond’s largest water users to ask them. He said he received positive responses from the customers about moving forward with a bond.
“I got favorable responses from four biggest water users,” he said. “Their comments were, ‘If you’re going to do it let’s go ahead and do it and do it in a quick and timely fashion.’”
Berning listed the hospital, laundry mat and nursing home as some of the entities he spoke with.
The council decided to kick the project back to the Public Works Committee for further review. Thorn said he would like to do more workshops with councilmen.
Councilman Mike Wright suggested coming up with a game plan to educate residents.
Councilman Bob Bond said he was disappointed more residents did not show Thursday to voice an opinion.
“I’m disappointed that there is not very much public out here to give their viewpoints,” Bond said. “I expected this room to be full,” Bond said. “I see the same faces out here.”
PHOTO: A piece of a truck bedliner connects a clarifier with underground piping on the south train system at the South Wastewater Plant. City crews had to use the bedliner to connect the two pieces because the ground underneath the clarifier is eroding away at a rapid pace. Other lines have been dug up and reconnected back together. Engineers are currently working on a plan to stabilize the hillside to prevent further erosion.
(Photo by Dennis Sharkey/The Daily News)