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The Paris City Council on Monday unanimously scheduled a special election on May 11 for City of Paris residents to vote on a $45 million bond issue to pay for a 10-year program of replacing the city’s decades-old, deteriorated underground water and sewer lines.
“It’s a big deal to the city, and it will make a difference. It will make a notable difference if we spend $45 million on water lines and sewer lines,” city manager John Godwin said.
“It will make us look better. It will make us operate better. It will make us much more efficient. And because of the timing, we can do it without raising rates or taxes, and that’s really hard to beat,” the city manager said.
The council swiftly and unanimously concurred.
As originally proposed, the ballot language spoke of “construction” of streets.
To make it plain that the city’s aim is to replace the city’s hundreds of miles of deteriorated water and sewer lines, the word “construction” was changed to “replacement,” Godwin said.
“Construction of streets implies we’re out looking to build new stuff, and that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re talking about replacing bad water lines and bad sewer lines,” Godwin said.
And the May 11 ballot will have but one proposition – replacement of city water and sewer lines with the street and drainage issues necessitated by the water and sewer line work.
“We are going to be allowed with that single proposition, if it is approved, to spend money on roads, but those roads will be the roads that are torn up or damaged and in some cases may need to be completely replaced because of the water and sewer construction project,” Godwin said.
Mayor AJ Hashmi said there are three questions for voters:
“Certainly we do need it. The city owns about 340 miles of water lines and about 200 miles of sewer lines. These lines are ancient and in deplorable condition, leading to interruption of water supply, leaking lines, and high costs of repairs and broken streets,” the mayor said.
“As to whether we can afford it, the city manager and his staff have done a lot of hard work on this, and determined that it can be done without raising taxes, fees or rates of any kind,” Hashmi added.
“Finally, can we do it in a professional way? Again, I feel the answer is yes. The council hired a company, KSA Engineering, because of its expertise in this kind of work, and the council has appointed a citizens committee to follow it through and to oversee the priorities. And all of the work will be competitively bid out.”
Godwin has said it is costing the city more than $500,000 a year to fix broken underground water and sewer lines. Often, he said, one repair job is followed days later by another in the same block.
The city’s water treatment plant treats much more than actually reaches homes and businesses because of the city-wide leaks.
Last month, the council was looking at a $50 million bond program to finance a 10-year program of work.
Monday night, Godwin brought back a smaller package of $45 million.
“I suspect we could do the $50 million without any rate increase or without any tax increase or any fee changes, but at $45 million we can say without a doubt there will not be any … because we’re already spending this much money on an annual basis for debt service anyway,” Godwin said.
In 2012, the city paid off a bond that was costing the city about $2.3 million a year in bond service costs, city finance director Gene Anderson said.
Two other bonds will be paid off — one in 2015 that will free up about $750,000 a year and one in 2020 that will free up about $450,000 a year, Anderson added.
“We know how much, if we keep paying the same rates, the same taxes, the same everything, the same debt service, over the next 20 years, how much money we’ll have available,” Godwin said.
“Using that, it’s just a mathematical calculation to go backward and determine how much bonds you can sell without doing anything different than we’re already doing right now, without raising our debt service over the next 20 years by a dime. And that amount is $45 million,” the city manager said
Cleonne Drake, councilwoman for District 6, asked if $45 million would be sufficient to do the planned work.
“I don’t think we can get the whole city, but we can get a significant portion of it done,” Hashmi said.
“And for what it’s worth, there’s only so much work you can do at one time as far as managing it. And there’s also so much construction going on in a city that taxpayers can stand having to drive through at one time. You don’t want every block and every street torn up.”
If the bonds are approved in May, the first bonds could be sold in August. Godwin said he would recommending selling half the bonds right away, and the other half at a future time to be determined.
Mayor pro-tem Dr. Richard Grossnickle, who represents District 4, asked if the city’s water and sewer lines can be moved to one side or the other of streets instead of underneath.
“Probably not. I don’t know if it will be even 10 percent or 20 percent, but we wll do it in as many cases as it makes sensefinancially. Some of our streets, if you go wider than that, you’re going to go into people’s yards, and that’s something we don’t want to do too much of, if we can avoid it,” Godwin said.
In addition to the bond package, the city council has authorized $5 million in “Year Zero” work to be undertaken in this fiscal year.
The Year Zero work is a package of about a dozen projects that includes sidewalk projects downtown, a couple of new streets that don’t involve water or sewer lines underneath, and some drainage work.
That is being paid for using the $2.3 million freed up by the bond that expired in 2012, plus $2.7 million out of the city’s water and general revenue reserves.
Godwin said as the city staff looked for stand-alone road reconstruction projects to do in Year Zero, they had a “really hard time” finding any.
“Not because roads don’t need to be repaired, but becaue almost every bad road in own has water lines and sewer lines underneath it. That’s a big part of what we want to do here — not just replace those water lines and sewer lines for a more improved and more efficient service, but also we can quit digging up our streets over and over again.”
By CHARLES RICHARDS