Public Hearing on Water Referendum

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By Terry Rogers

On Monday, February 10, Milford City Council held a public hearing regarding a bond bill that would allow them to borrow $3.5 million at 1.5 percent interest to perform necessary water repairs in the city. The bond would allow the city to inspect and repair the more than 2,500 isolation valves throughout the city, as well as perform necessary maintenance on existing water treatment facilities. These maintenance issues became more critical, according to Engineer Erik Retzlaff, after a portion of the Tenth Street Water Treatment Facility developed significant problems the day of the council meeting.

“This bill was initially planned to focus on the water valve problem and to do some needed maintenance to the four water treatment facilities in the city,” said Erik Retzlaff, an engineer with Davis, Bowen & Friedel who provides assistance to the City on infrastructure. “Today, workers discovered water coming from a fan at the Tenth Street facility, and discovered that wooden slats used to filter the water had collapsed, requiring them to temporarily route around the structure. Although this temporary fix was approved by the Office of Water Safety, it must be fixed permanently as the city is dependent on that facility as others are working at capacity or are not operational at the moment.”

The bond, that must be passed by referendum, will allow the City to borrow t$3.2 million for water maintenance and repairs at an interest rate of 1.5 percent for twenty years. According to Mr. Retzlaff, the average increase to citizens will be approximately $1.18 per billing cycle. City Manager Richard Carmean said that he, City Financial Director, Jeff Portman and Mr. Retzlaff had met to review all options available to the City in order to determine whether borrowing was the right answer or whether the city had other options.

“What we have learned is that valve replacement is critical, and some of these valves are under Route 113,” Mr. Carmean said. “If one of these breaks, it has to be done quickly, and it could mean breaking up a street, which must then be repaired after we have fixed the valve. The City simply does not have the manpower to perform this work.”

Councilman Skip Pikus said that he understood that this may be the last time the rates will be this low. Mr. Retzlaff said that he understood that rates are currently around four percent, and that this is an excellent rate for the City. Councilman Dirk Gleysteen asked if the city had the manpower to perform preventative maintenance after all the valves had been inspected.

“Probably not, we will more than likely have to hire someone, but there are other duties we could assign that person, such as storm drain inspection,” Mr. Carmean explained. “In all honesty, when we first started discussing this, Mr. Portman thought it might be better to have our guys do the valve work, but it will take them twenty years to get it done, and then we will have to start all over again. Plus, if the street needs to be torn up, our guys don’t have the ability to make those repairs quickly. Once Mr. Portman understood that, he agreed that the bond was the best option.” However, not all in attendance were in support of the decision to borrow money for the repairs.

“As I understand it, later in the agenda Council will discuss continuing the waiver of impact fees,” said Milford resident Bob Connelly during the public discussion. “One of the concerns we all had when the City decided to waive impact fees a few years ago was that something would happen with the infrastructure and there would not be enough in our reserves to cover the costs, requiring other citizens to bear those costs with increased fees or taxes. How much would the City have in reserves now had those impact fees not been waived?”

Mr. Carmean explained that the discussion later in the meeting would deal with commercial impact fees, and that they were no longer waiving residential fees. “We probably would have had an additional $500,000 to $600,000 in reserves if we had not waived those fees, but we would still not have had the funds to do these repairs and would still have had to borrow money.”

Council voted unanimously to order a special election for the purpose of referendum in reference to borrowing $3.5 million for the repairs and maintenance of the City’s water system.