Carson City Supervisors ponder megabucks messages on capital budgeting

A $48 million price tag for wastewater treatment upgrades kept Carson City’s Board of Supervisors Thursday pondering past problems and future possibilities.

It prompted Mayor Robert Crowell to grouse about the past, all members to puzzle about future moves and everyone at the city’s capital budget preview meeting to ponder prospects for a 10 percent annual sewer rate hike over five years that Public Works Director Andy Burnham said may be recommended in April to do the job. The discussion, meanwhile, was merely the finale of a morning in which it became plain megabucks are needed for the city’s other capital needs as well.

Crowell, however, summed up the sewer and wastewater cost dilemma right before lunch after being told by staff that supervisors years ago hadn’t kept funding in the budget to deal with plant depreciation.

“At some point we were penny wise and pound foolish” he said. “We’re now paying the piper for what we didn’t do years ago.”

His remarks followed a presentation in which Burnham and other staffers said the treatment system is aging and needs replacements for the plant and related facilities. The presentation sparked Supervisor John McKenna to question whether upgrading the existing treatment system or building a new plant would be best. Supervisor Brad Bonkowski and McKenna also quizzed Burnham and staff colleagues about building a regional plant, which Burnham in his presentation said didn’t seem feasible.

“I don’t know if it’s throwing good money after bad,” said McKenna, making his comment about the improvement recommendation.

“We’re not throwing good money after bad,” Burnham replied. City Manager Larry Werner joined the dialogue, saying improvements would bring in state-of-the-art equipment to replace aging sewer plant components now causing problems.

Bonkowski asked if upgrades would take care of a need for what staff called a current lack of redundancy, which amounts to not having sufficient capability to handle waste when a malfunction occurs in the aging equipment. He was told improvements would include that.

The proposed wastewater capital budget calls for almost $6 million in Fiscal Year 2013-14 and more than $48.3 million over five years through FY 2017-18.

Water rates also would go up under the capital budget Public Works presented. Burnham said he may recommend as little as 3 percent or up to five percent when decision time approaches in April. He said he awaits more information from a rate study under way.

The proposed capital improvement water budget plan calls for $3.6 million next fiscal year, almost $17.2 million through FY 2017-18.

The proposed capital budget for transit, streets and the Regional Transportation Commission was just $771,000 for next fiscal year and $1.8 million over five years, but reviewing it did provoke a discussion about deferred maintenance of roadways. McKenna said he would like at some point to see a long-term program that would avoid future upkeep deferral.

Various revenue possibilities were discussed to deal with roads, though some require a vote of citizens. Raising sales tax charged in the city by one-eighth of a penny, which would require two-thirds support from the board, also was discussed. It would raise about $950,000 a year, which Finance Director Nick Providenti told the board could support $12 million or more in bonding for road work.

Other capital needs discussed were the city’s fleet, which is aging and could cost up to $703,200 next fiscal year; stormwater needs, which called for $1.4 million next fiscal year; and General Fund capital needs, which came in at $1.5 million.

Burnham, however, made it plain departments didn’t anticipate the supervisors could go that high from the General Fund and so he presented them with a priority list drawn up by staff consensus. Roof repair needs topped that list.


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