Cost to main­tain Somer­ton util­i­ties: $4M

Up­grades are ur­gently needed to avoid fu­ture prob­lems, pub­lic works di­rec­tor tells coun­cil

Yuma Sun - - FRONT PAGE - BY CESAR NEYOY

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.”

LOANED PHOTO/PHOTO FROM CITY OF SOMER­TON

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.

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