City officials debate water, sewer projects
BY ZACK STOYCOFF World Staff Writer
Saturday, February 16, 2013
2/18/13 at 3:50 PM
Read continuing coverage of Tulsa’s City Council.
City officials are debating how much of $240.9 million in proposed wastewater projects to include in the estimated $800 million capital improvements package that is likely headed to voters in November.
City Engineering Services Director Paul Zachary told a city committee this week that his department wants $14.5 million to connect about 200 houses in 14 neighborhoods to the city's sewer system, but he said $226.4 more million likely will be needed for renovations and upgrades of wastewater treatment plants and the city's collection system.
The funding would be needed between fiscal years 2014 and 2019, the period immediately after the five-year run of the 2008 Fix Our Streets package.
The coming capital improvements package would renew Fix Our Streets' funding sources and seek to address part of the city's $1.4 billion in identified capital needs through 2019, likely including between $470 million and $670 million for street repairs.
Officials plan to collect public opinion about city departments' recommended projects during town hall meetings in March and would look to present a final list of projects during a second round of town hall meetings by May.
Zachary said he has recommended allocating $14.5 million to reduce the number of houses not connected to the sewer system to about 2,300.
Many of those houses were built during a period of rapid growth in the 1970s and '80s before public sewer lines had expanded to those areas, he said. They are served by private sewers or septic tanks.
The city has been working to connect unserved neighborhoods since the late 1980s but can do so only in neighborhoods where at least half of the property owners have signed a petition seeking the service or there is a health or safety emergency, Zachary said.
Public sewers are considered more sanitary and can raise property values, he said. All 14 neighborhoods identified in the proposal are voluntary additions, he said.
"It's to their benefit," he said. "I will tell you in talking to the real estate people, if you go to somebody and tell them you have a septic tank system versus you're on gravity city system, there's a difference in the value that's associated with that."
The anticipated upgrades and renovations for wastewater treatment plants are not part of the formal recommendations, but city department heads said this week that additional funding for those projects would help reduce projected debt increases for the Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority.
The authority can afford to spend about $47 million between fiscal years 2014 and 2019 on the upgrades and renovations, Water and Sewer Director Clayton Edwards said.
Without additional funds, the authority would need to borrow $170 million more through bonds during that span, which would increase its annual sewer-related debt from $20.7 million this year to $32.5 million in 2018, he said.
Allocating $80 million for sewer projects in the next capital improvements package, or 10 percent of the package's funding - a typical share for sewer projects in such initiatives - would reduce the debt increase significantly, Edwards said.
The authority's debt has been increasing each year because utility rates are too low to keep up with maintenance needs, he said.
The authority has proposed two 7 percent increases for water rates over the next two years and two 9 percent increases for sewer rates in the same span.
Although the new rates would remain well short of meeting maintenance needs, the authority would seek to balance any further increases with additional borrowing to avoid hurting customers, Edwards said.
Rate increases will likely be included in the city budget proposal that is due in April, he said.
Fix Our Streets is funded by the third-penny sales tax, the city's portion of the 0.167-cent sales tax from the 4 to Fix the County initiative, and general obligation bonds.
Original Print Headline: City officials debate water, sewer projects
Zack Stoycoff 918-581-8486