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Sewer rates and community garden

Topics dominate City Council meeting
By: Stephanie Dumm News Messenger Reporter
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Sewer rates and a community garden were the two topics most heavily discussed during Tuesday night’s short City Council meeting. The council approved three items to move the city toward receiving a loan to fund the Gravity Sewer and Reclamation Project, which was approved as a capitol project on Sept. 13, 2011, according to city engineer Bruce Burnworth. Gravity sewer lines “flow downhill,” compared to force main lines, which use a lift station or pump to pump the sewage, said Burnworth to The News Messenger in November. The replacement of two sections of sewer line with gravity sewer line would mean the elimination of three lift stations, Burnworth also said in November. The project would also result in the ability to sell reclaimed water. The project cost is $5 million for the city that would be funded through a low-interest loan through the state revolving fund loan, Burnworth said Wednesday. “The annual payments to pay back that loan would come back through savings associated with elimination of the lift stations and sales of reclaimed water,” Burnworth explained. To receive a State Revolving Fund Loan for the project, Burnworth said Tuesday night, one requirement for the loan is to “confirm the existing sewer user rates through the Proposition 218 formal process.” Burnworth said Proposition 218 “requires any agency that wants to raise water, sewer or other types of rates go through a process to notify the public.” “There is no change in the rates proposed at this time. We are simply going through a process to satisfy the (loan) requirement,” Burnworth said. The last time rates were raised was in 2006, Burnworth said. The council voted on three resolutions Tuesday night as part of that formal process. One resolution was to authorize the city manager to mail notices for a March 13 Proposition 218 hearing to confirm existing sewer rates, according to Burnworth. The remaining two resolutions were to “adopt guidelines for the submission and tabulation of Proposition 218 protests” and a $20,000 purchase order for the “preparation and mailing of the required notices,” Burnworth said. “We don’t expect it to cost that much but we are trying to get a good handle on the cost and will spend the minimum,” Burnworth said. The council also gave staff direction regarding a potential community garden. George Dellwo, the city’s assistant director of development services, said that Councilman Stan Nader asked during the Dec. 13 council meeting about “vacant city-owned land that could possibly be used for a community garden.” Council directed staff to identify city-owned properties that could be used for a garden and to “list the potential liabilities that may be associated with such a project,” Dellwo said. Dellwo said 45 city-owned properties were reviewed, and after discussing those properties with Nader, six properties were focused on by Nader. To install a community garden, Dellwo said, a special use permit may need to be issued by the planning commission or “some sort of public hearing to have the neighborhood weigh in on that use.” Dellwo also listed potential liabilities related to the park. “Someone could step on a rake, someone could fall, someone may challenge the garden’s ADA accessibility, someone could spill herbicide or pesticide on themselves,” Dellwo said. There would also not be city staff available to maintain the garden, according to Dellwo, “so if one is done, we will need to find other funding sources.” Consensus given by the council was to have the community garden be a community-driven project done on private property. “While I understand and recognize the liability issues, we also accept those with the dog park, skatepark and parks in general,” Councilman Tom Cosgrove said. “What I’m more interested in are the people who brought forth the idea. Is there a site close to where they are that they are willing to develop the concept of?” If the garden moves forward, Nader said, “it will clearly be driven by the community because we don’t have any money or staff.” “I think it’s important we somehow encourage this,” Nader said. “Right now, I am trying to encourage private individuals to start the community garden process on private lands.” Councilman Gabriel Hydrick expressed concerns about the garden resulting in “blight.” “I’m fine putting it out there to the community but I would like to see a real specific plan because they seem to fall into disrepair,” Hydrick said. Mayor Spencer Short and Councilman Paul Joiner also agreed on having a community garden be community-driven on private property.