BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
WEST POINT – West Point residents may soon see an increase in their property tax levy or their sewer bill or a combination, but either way they’ll be paying for a $1.5 million upgrade to the waste water treatment facility on the town’s east side.
At a special meeting Monday night at West Point City Hall, Jack Pope, a physical engineer from Garden and Associates of Oskaloosa, told the full council that the amount of ammonia nitrogen in the detention area would not pass new regulations from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
The new regulations reduce the amount of nitrogen as well as e.coli present in the water at the facility. Pope said he wasn’t concerned about the e.coli because the current facility is still under those limits.
Pope had three options for the city to consider. Two of those options carried a price tag of $3.3 million and included additional land requirements and one of those would have required a building to be put on the property for additional filtering. The other option would require four new aerators and rock filter system.
That was the plan approved by the council. Construction crews would build a structure approximately 30′ x 60′ at the current location and fill a portion of it with rock and have the blowers inside the box. The rock would serve as a filtering system while the blowers circulated the water to help with the cleaning process. The rock helps capture the bacteria while the water can flow through. Pope said it would cost about $54,000 per year for operations and maintenance.
Pope told the council he was recommending the $1.5 million option because the others have the higher price tag and that option didn’t require land acquisition. There was little discussion among the council on the options, but funding the project did raise some concerns.
Pope said the city would be eligible for a loan from the state’s Revolving Loan Fund. But that cost, shared among the 475 users on the city’s waste water system, would raise monthly bills about $25 for 20 years or until the loan is paid back. Pope said he would also inquire about a Community Development Block Grant, but because the sewer rates were so low, they probably would put the project toward the bottom of the list because the rates could be higher to pay for the project.
“Right now, that would set your monthly bill at about $36 per customer. And, if I look around other communities this size, they typically pay between $30 and $40 a month so you have some really low rates,” he said.
City Administrator Gene Menke told the council the city could levy for the project as well. Other options were using Local Option Sales Tax funds that the city currently doesn’t have obligated to anything else. He said another option was to issue general obligation bonds to pay for the project, or a combination of all the options to help ease the impact on users.
“We’re gonna kick that can down the road,” Menke said after the meeting. “We’re just not sure what that will look like yet.”
The council approved the upgrade called a SAGR in environmental terms, meaning Submerged Attached Growth Reactor, by a unanimous vote. Pope said he would submit the application before March 1 because that’s the state’s deadline for revolving loan applications. He also said the town has until 2020 to remediate the facility to handle the new requirements.
The current facility is just under 20 years old. Mayor Paul Walker asked Pope how long he thought that would keep the town within state guidelines, as they are known to change.
Pope said the state won’t ever say it’s good for 20 years or so, but they could probably count on somewhere between 12 and 20 years before more improvements would have to be made. The new upgrade would have to be operational by the end of December 2019.