PRIEST RIVER — City council heard from engineers Feb. 5 about a host of improvements to public works and possible fee hikes. Necia Maiani of Welch Comer Engineers went over the pros and cons of concrete versus steel water reservoir tanks for the council members, who have to decide on which route to take for the city’s future water needs. The 1 million-gallon reservoir would be constructed adjacent to the existing facility on city property behind the bus barn, said Maiani. A tank made of concrete would have a lower maintenance but a higher capital cost than a steel tank, she explained. The reservoir would cost $2.326 million with an annual maintenance cost of $3,300 or less, and an estimated impact to city water users’ bills of $6.71-$8.08 per month. The steel reservoir would cost $1.961 million with an annual maintenance cost of $7,900 and an estimated impact to users of $5.83-$7.30 per month. In response to council member Greg Edwards, Maiani explained that the old water reservoir will not need to be demolished. “If it lasts, you can continue to operate the old one,” she said.
Mayor Jim Martin said it hurt to hear the issue of the wastewater pond reemerge after the council dealt with it in 2008-09. The problem is that the wastewater pond is not keeping up with the backwash rate, and current overflow into wetlands is not allowed, said Maiani. The easiest fix would be to install a five-horsepower sump pump in the pond area to continually pump 10 gallons of water per minute. Alternatively the city could get an NPDES Permit, she said. The estimated cost to the city would be $33,000.
“Needless to say, this one’s a hard one to swallow because this was a DEQ mandate, an engineering issue and now we’ve paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to build a backwash basin, fenced it, knowing that it’s clay, it freezes in winter, it ain’t gonna drain, and now we’re paying again. I know DEQ is gonna point the finger at us. It’s us, it’s our system. I didn’t design it. We were very adamant that this was not what we wanted,” said Martin.
Other items on the Welch Comer hit list included a $93,000 water treatment plant generator to power the plant during a power outage, $17,000 check valves at the industrial standpipe, $257,000 replacement of the asbestos cement water main beneath Main Street, and more. Cumulative costs ranged between $3.063-$2.069 million for the city. To pay for all of these expenses, water bills would go up by $8.85-$10.23 per month if the city chose the concrete tank option, and $7.53-$9.01 if the city chose the steel tank option, said Maiani. However, those figures didn’t factor in an extra 10 percent reserve the city would need to accumulate to pay off anticipated USDA loans, which would raise fees by another several dollars per month. Maiani advised the city to make headway towards a bond revenue election to be held this May in order to begin construction later this year. Martin said he didn’t think the city could do the projects until 2019.
Martin said “I can’t in good conscience tell the public we need $3 million dollars because I don’t think we do.” He added, “Those numbers need to be refined. Sharpen your pencil, come up with good numbers, then we can pick and choose what we think the public is going to support.”
The mayor said water and sewer currently costs residents $92.72 per month. Adding more bonds would push that number over the $100 mark, and handicap the city’s ability to raise user fees to cover maintenance and operations.
Ryan Rehder of Mountain Waterworks presented the wastewater treatment plant project to the council. The wastewater treatment plant project is mainly related to items unaddressed in the 2001 iteration of the project, said Rehder. Its nine project components also pertain to operator safety and energy efficiency, he added. The current headworks was designed with a manually-cleaned steel screen, which Rehder said is very unusual to see. That would be replaced, and aeration in the water is now monitored to reduce energy costs in the treatment process. The project will also reduce the difficulty of hauling off sludge by dewatering it. Currently sludge disposal is the plant’s highest operating cost, said Rehder.
The city created an employee compensation review committee consisting of police chief Drew McLain, Sgt. Chris Davis, city clerk Laurel Thomas, council members Candy Turner and Greg Edwards, and a member to be chosen from the public works department, said Martin.