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Officials to check figures

determine plant's fate

April 22, 1997

By STEVEN T. DENNIS

Staff Writer

The Washington County industrial pretreatment plant is losing so much money that the Washington County Commissioners have asked staff to prepare scenarios for mothballing the plant.

The pretreatment plant's budget is projected to have an $888,000 deficit next fiscal year, which begins July 1. The budget picture won't improve substantially unless more businesses that will use the plant move into the county, officials said.

Revenue for the plant, which was built in the fall of 1994 for $8.6 million, is projected to reach $372,000 next year, less than one third of the yearly $1.2 million in projected expenses.

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Commissioner James R. Wade asked staff members to compare how much the county will spend over the next five years subsidizing the plant. He also asked the staff how much the county will spend if the plant is shut down - on both a temporary and permanent basis.

Wade said it was time for the commissioners to consider their options on the pretreatment plant and make some tough decisions.

"We built it, nobody came, and now we're going to have to pay for it," Wade said. "That's the facts."

Commissioner John S. Shank said he didn't think it was fair for county taxpayers to pay to keep the plant open for one or two companies.

Commissioner Ronald L. Bowers was not present for the discussion. In an afternoon interview, Bowers said he didn't want to address the $888,000 deficit until the Water and Sewer Advisory Commission has a chance to make recommendations. "Pretreatment was built to bring new business in," he said. "I would hate to see one of the carrots taken out of the hands of a new economic development director and Economic Development Commission before they even get established."

Bowers maintained that the county hasn't marketed the plant properly.

Water and Sewer Director Greg Murray reminded the commissioners that, even if the plant is closed, the county still must pay off the pretreatment plant's debt.

Murray said his department is exploring the possibility of hiring a company to market the plant's services.

The $888,000 projected operating deficit for next year would have been even larger if the county hadn't refinanced the plant debt last year and postponed payments on the debt until 2000.

County Public Works Director Gary Rohrer said last week that the plant could require an additional $2 million to adapt it to process emulsified oily wastes.

The wastes, which principally come from Mack Trucks, are treated by the plant now and provide much of the plant's income. The pretreatment plant wasn't built to treat such wastes and requires $168,000 in maintenance every 15 months to clean the residue left behind by the waste, county officials said.

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