On Monday, August 12, Milford City Council members voted unanimously to authorize City Manager Richard Carmean to begin the process for a referendum in order to fund projects necessary to the city’s water system. The city recently learned it was eligible for a $3.5 million loan at 1.5 percent interest over 20 years that would cover the cost of critical valve testing and replacement throughout the city.
According to Mr. Carmean, obtaining the loan at such a low interest rate would allow the city to use reserve funds for smaller projects, such as increasing water pressure in Northwest Milford. Eric Retzlaff of Davis, Bowen & Friedel reported that valve replacement can be expensive, and that he has received estimates of as much as $30,000 to replace one large valve. If the valve is located below a street that could have as much as 18-inches of asphalt, there could be an additional $15,000 to $20,000 site reconstruction cost. Milford currently has approximately 2,500 valves throughout the city, and according to Mr. Retzlaff it could take 20 years for the water department to check and replace all of them.
A referendum would raise the average resident’s water bill between $1.18 and $1.20 per month. Mr. Retzlaff informed council that a water main break with valves that are not operating properly costs the city a significant amount of manpower time. A recent break where valves were not operating properly occurred on the corner of Marshall Street and SE 2nd Street near Mill Brothers Market in the downtown area , forcing the city to shut water off to the popular Milford business for several hours on a Friday night.
“How does this project overlap with our hydrant checks?” asked Councilman Dirk Gleysteen. Mr. Retzlaff explained that hydrant checks, which are required annually per Delaware State Fire Prevention Regulation, could be performed in conjunction with the valve checks. The project would also allow the city to assign identifiers and GPS coordinates to map locations of the valves.
“This is probably the last time we will get an interest rate that low,” said Councilman Skip Pikus, who also chairs the Finance Committee. Mr. Retzlaff said that the city currently is approved at the 1.5 percent rate, but if the city does not accept the loan, and there is an issue that requires them to apply for the same funding next year, the rate will more than likely be 3 percent or more.
After voting to authorize Mr. Carmean to begin the process of a referendum, council members discussed upgrades necessary to the Shawnee Acres pumping station. According to Mr. Retzlaff, the pump is nearing capacity, and planned developments in the area could overload the system to the point that current residents would no longer be served by the station.
“We need more capacity out there as there are developments planned, but not yet begun,” said Councilman Bryan Shupe, who represents the ward where the station is located. “We need to be ahead of the game, not just to be sure we can serve new development but properties that already exist in the area.” Mr. Carmean explained that moving forward with improvements to the pumping station would allow the city to include an additional impact fee for developers who want to build in the area that would replace the cost of the upgrades in the city’s reserve funds.
“We need to be careful building before we have a need,” said Councilman Dirk Gleysteen. “We have to consider that we could install equipment that could deteriorate before it ever gets used.” Mr. Carmean explained that deterioration shouldn’t be a problem, and Mr. Retzlaff explained that the pumping station was aging.
“The pumping station is approaching 20 years old, and it is time to replace that pump and some of the electrical equipment,” Mr. Retzlaff explained. “By replacing the pumping station now, plans can be developed so that if a developer comes in and wants a ‘shovel ready’ location, the water and sewer lines could be to their facility within nine months instead of two years.”
“This is our new mindset,” said Councilwoman Katrina White. “We must be proactive not reactive. We can’t wait for developers anymore.”
Mr. Carmean explained that he would provide further information to council at a future meeting, but it was his recommendation that they move forward with the project.