- Paris Flash
- Real Estate
By CHARLES RICHARDS
In his first budget proposal, city manager John Godwin made a major commitment to improve the infrastructure — calling for $1.7 million for new water and sewer lines over the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.
At a special meeting Wednesday of the Paris City Council, Godwin proposed a budget of $880,000 for new water lines — more than triple the $280,000 in the current fiscal year.
He asked for $781,000 in new sewer lines — more than four times the $181,000 in the 2011-2012 budget.
The new commitment for water and sewer lines is an increase of $1.2 million — $600,000 more in water lines and $600,000 more in sewer lines.
Sadly, he said, that will make only a dent in the problem. The cost to replace the city’s deteriorating underground water and sewer lines has been estimated at $100 million.
“This is not going to take care of the problem, or anywhere close to it, but we can get some of the really bad ones,” Godwin said.
Getting some of those really bad water lines and some of the really bad sewer lines will save the city money in many areas, the city manager said.
“We have so many water leaks,” Godwin said, that workers in the street department are frequently called off whatever they are doing to repair a bumpy street after workers have torn it up to fix a leak in a water or sewer line — many of which lie under city streets.
“There’s a lot of other parts to that, too, that we don’t see. For example, because we have so many water leaks, there’s some that we find and in a lot of cases some that we don’t find,” which results in a lot of waste, the city manager said.
“It’s very common to have a leak for weeks or even months and not even know it’s there. Depending on soil conditions, it can be there for a very long time.
“Because of that, in order to deliver a million gallons of water from our water plant, we have to treat not a million gallons, but 1.2 million gallons, or 1.3 million gallons. So there‘s a lot of water that we‘re treating that never gets to the customer,” he said.
The same waste losses occur because of leaks in sewer lines.
“Because we have leaks in our sewer lines, we have infiltration — we have rain water getting into our sewer lines. When rain water gets in the sewer lines, all that rain water goes to the sewer plant. So at your sewer plant, you’re not treating just sewage, you’re also treating rain water.”
New water and sewer lines will save water, lower maintenance and operations costs, improve efficiency of the city’s lift stations, and lower utility costs, the city manger said.
“At some point your infrastructure becomes so old that just repairing it seems kind of penny wise and pound foolish,” Godwin said.
Before Godwin presented his budget, the council agreed to take $400,000 out of the city’s general fund reserves to tear down “every dilapidated house in town.”
The city manager endorsed that move, and asked the council to consider going back into reserves to make money available for streets.
The city manager recommended an increase of $125,000 for new streets, from the current $530,000 to $655,000. That’s not enough but it was all he could come up with, Godwin said.
“I’ve always hesitated to spend money out of reserves, but if you ever do spend money out of reserves on a one-time thing, this is certainly a way to do it,” he said.
“You don’t want to spend reserves to pay for personnel, for example, or other recurring expenses. Kind of like you were talking about — or decided upon, actually — to catch up with demolitions.,” he said.
“It’s at times awkward, and sometimes unpopular, to use utilities fund money for things other than utility kind of issues. But unless you have a specific local ordinance, which you don’t have here, it is legal to spend those funds for other purposes,” he added.
The city’s reserves on Sept. 30, the final day of the 2011-2012 fiscal year, are projected to be $9.5 million in the general fund and $3.8 million in the water and sewer fund — a total of $13.3 million, or $12.9 million after the $400,000 for demolition of dilapidated houses is taken out.
Finance director Gene Anderson has said it is prudent for a governmental entity to keep enough in reserves to pay for three months to four months of operating capital.
If the council left four months’ of operating capital ($7.3 million) in reserves, that would leave $5.6 million available for additional money for water and sewer lines, and new streets, sidewalks and curbs.
So as not to waste any time, Godwin said — assuming council approval — that he has instructed the city staff “to be ready to begin work in early October” replacing water and sewer lines.
District 2 councilwoman Sue Lancaster asked the city manager if he included any money for new curbs or sidewalks.
“There’s an awful lot of bad curbs,” she said. “On Main Street, all down Bonham, all down Grand. They’re very bad.”
Godwin said of the $655,000 budgeted for new streets, the amount for curbs or sidewalks “is not much. It’s like in the high teens. It’s a very low number.”
Ultimately, the city manager said, “there has to be a lot of money for streets and for curbs and for drainage and for sidewalks. We have a lot of sidewalks that are not very walkable, and that’s a real shame. And that also affects the quality of your streets,” Godwin said.
“All of those things kind of go together. All of those things are funding sources we need to find.”
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