City Council gives go-ahead for May 11 city-wide election on $50 million bond issue to address deteriorating water & sewer pipes
Pictures like these — of deteriorated water and sewer lines under the City of Paris, some of them laid 75 to 100 years ago — were a backdrop for the Paris City Council’s discussion of a 10-year capital improvement plan to replace much of the city’s infrastructure. The council told city manager John Godwin to bring paperwork to the council’s next meeting on Feb. 11 to pave the way for a May 11 special election on approval to issue up to $50 million in bonds. (Photos submitted by the City of Paris)
By CHARLES RICHARDS
The Paris City Council went on record Monday for a special election on May 11, coinciding with the city council elections, to get citizens’ approval for up to $50 million in bonds to replace the city’s deteriorated water and sewer lines.
The governing bodies of many cities commonly finance their bond issues by selling certificates of obligation, which don’t require voter approval, city manager John Godwin noted.
“And I think you could justify that because without doubt we are going to have $50 million worth of projects with water and sewer lines,” the city manager said.
“But specifically, several of you individually and as a group have said that you want to put this on the ballot and let the voters decide, rather than telling voters that they’re going to get this whether they like it or not,” Godwin said.
The six council members present Monday night (District 5 councilman Matt Frierson was out of the city), nodded their agreement.
Dr. AJ Hashmi, who represents District 7 and is also the mayor, said some had suggested that the council should save the cost of a city-wide election and proceed on its own.
“I feel the support of the community is required. It’s an expensive project. It’s a big project for our town, and you all need to be behind it for us to go with it,” the mayor said.
The May 11 ballot will have three propositions – water and sewer; streets; and drainage — each of which will stand on its own.
Since an election cannot be called sooner than 90 days in advance, the council will wait until its Feb. 11 meeting to officially call the May 11 elections.
Godwin said Paris’ problem is greater than many cities because its water and sewer lines are under the streets, rather than under the curbs.
“If we have a leak, we have to go dig up the street,” the manager said. “Obviously once you fix the lines you have to patch the road back. And we want to put it back in quality condition.”
With “extremely old” water and sewer lines that date back to World War II and beyond, the deterioration is significant, Godwin has.
The city manager has estimated that it costs the City of Paris more than $500,000 a year to send workers around the city to dig up pavement, fix the leak, and then patch the road.
Drive down the streets of Paris, he said, and you’ll see the squares and rectangles that represent where workers have gone down to fix leaks, then put a patch on the road.
Often, he said, workers are digging up pavement only a few feet away from where they just finished a repair a day or two earlier.
“The bottom line is, we need to spend a whole lot of money on water and sewer lines, initially, to stop the breaks and stop that road damage,” the city manager said.
The mayor said it’s important that voters realize that although there are three propositions, “what we are talking about is water and sewer.”
Almost without exception, he said, the street work to be done will be new streets after the water and sewer lines are replaced.
Council members said they favor taking the bold step to begin fixing the infrastructure.
“It’s something we’ve got to get done. In front of my own house, for the past 12 years the city has come out several times a year – over and over and over. As a taxpayer, I’m tired of putting a Band-Aid on it,” District 6 councilwoman Cleonne Drake said.
“If we’re ever going forward, I think a bond election is the way to do it, and I like that we’re going to the voters to let them decide. I’m getting very positive feedback from people that I have been talking to about it,” she said.
District 3 councilman John Wright said the council “would be remiss not to do this. We have the opportunity to do the water and the sewer and to slow down street repair all in one motion. I fully back it.”
City staff brought to the council meeting some of the badly deteriorated water or sewer lines found by workers when they went to repair leaks.
“Now I know why my water is orange,” District 2 councilwoman Sue Lancaster said.
“I’m definitely definitely for the repair, and I’m getting positive feedback, too,” she said.
Mayor pro-tem Dr. Richard Grossnickle, who represents District 4, said there’s a pressing need to revitalize the city, “and we’re not going to be able to do that unless we get the infrastructure improved significantly.”
Grossnickle added: “Yes, it takes a lot of money, but I think if we all vote for this it will be money well spent.”
District 1 councilman Aaron Jenkins had no questions, but indicated his support for the bond issue.
Hashmi noted that this is the first time in many years that the council has addressed the infrastructure.
“We can keep closing our eyes and keep delaying it, but every year the replacing all of this keeps going up. At some point, we have to start to progress, and bite the bullet and do it,” the mayor said.
“Otherwise, we will still be discussing it forever and we will never get anywhere,” he said.
Because of several circumstances, the City of Paris is in outstanding financial condition, and it is very possible that the city can accomplish the $50 million indebtedness without a tax increase, Hashmi said.
“Or if we do have to increase taxes, the amount is going to be so miniscule that I don’t think any of us will feel it,” he said.
This is an ideal time for a bond issue, the city’s bond adviser told the city in a recent meeting, because interest rates are at an historic low. And tax revenues would be needed only for the street projects in the city’s 10-year capital improvement program .
A lot of people don’t realize that water and sewer projects are paid not with tax money, but through the monthly water and sewer bill, the city manager said.
“And because of the retirement of old bonds – one already and two more coming up – we won’t have to raise water or sewer rates, either,” Godwin said.
from left, city clerk Janice Ellis, city manager John Godwin, and city attorney Kent McIlyar. (eParisExtra photo)\