Cost to maintain Somerton utilities: $4M
Upgrades are urgently needed to avoid future problems, public works director tells council
SOMERTON — The city needs to spend more than $4 million on maintenance to prevent failures of its water and sewer systems, Somerton’s public works director says.
The work needs to be done over the next five years to correct problems such as leaks that ultimately could cause utility lines from collapsing, as well as water tanks that have received little or no maintenance since being installed decades ago, Public Works Director Samuel Palacios says.
The upgrades are urgent because, “we aren’t doing maintenance of any kind,” Palacios said in a recent presentation to the Somerton City Council. “Sooner or later we are going to have problems.”
His report comes as the council considers whether to adopt recommended water and sewer service rate increases that would, in part, fund the system upgrades.
Palacios said the city needs to spend a $2.23 million on 10 projects to maintain water lines, storage tanks and the water treatment plant.
Another $1.81 million is needed for upgrades to nine sewer lift stations, replacement of sewer lines and other projects.
“All these projects are just for maintenance of the systems,” Mayor Gerardo Anaya said as Palacios presented his report. “We are not talking about what will be needed (to meet population) growth. For many years nothing has been done for (maintenance). Now we have to do it, because if not there could be problems.”
While City Hall knows what it needs to do to upgrade the systems, he said,
the city now must determine if it can limit the amount of the increase by tapping into grants and alternate revenue services and by using city employees in lieu of contractors to do some of the work.
“We know that the rate hike is inevitable,” Anaya said, “but we want it to be minimal. We can reduce the cost of some projects and see which projects can be done with grants, so that funds needed (from a rate increase) are less.”
A consultant last summer presented the council a proposal to increase the base water rate for households from $11.50 at present to $15.91 over five years, and the monthly sewer rate from $38.50 at present to $46.86 over the same period. Also recommended were increases in water and sewer rates charged businesses.
Apart from the needed maintenance, city officials say the annual revenue generated by the current water rate is nearly $200,000 less that the cost to operate the water system.
The council is expected to make a decision on the rate hike proposal within a month. The city last increased water and sewer rates in 2007.
“We need to move forward with the rate increase as soon as possible,” Somerton City Councilman Luis Galindo said. “We cannot put this off another two months. We haven’t even maintained what we have, and it could collapse tomorrow.”
Anaya said a rate increase will be one of the issues discussed in a series of retreats, the first of which was scheduled to take place Saturday.
“We have been transparent in this process,” Anaya said. “The proposed rate adjustment and the reports were presented in public hearings. Now what we are looking at is how to keep the increase and its impact on the people as little as possible.”
THE CITY NEEDS TO DO MAINTENANCE WORK to the tune of more than $1.8 million in costs to its sewer system, including the wastewater treatment plant seen here.