Closing plant could save millions

April 25, 1997


Staff Writer

Closing the Washington County industrial pretreatment plant could save taxpayers $3.61 million over six years, according to a county staff projection discussed Thursday night at a Water and Sewer Advisory Commission meeting.

If the plant doesn't get new business and rates stay the same, taxpayers will have to spend about $7.4 million over six years to offset projected deficits under a "worst-case scenario" presented by county staff, according to county staff projections.

If the plant is closed, debt service over six years is projected to be $3.79 million.

If emulsified oily wastes are no longer accepted at the plant, the six-year deficit would be $8.17 million. Water and Sewer Director Greg Murray said that the emulsified wastes created a lot of expensive maintenance problems in the general wastewater plant that weren't considered in the projection.


Murray recommended that the plant, built in 1994 for $8.6 million, stay open for a year while a marketing plan is developed and implemented. Murray also recommended that the plant no longer accept emulsified oily wastes.

The advisory commission backed Murray on a 4-3 vote. The other three members wanted to keep the plant open for a year and wanted to continue treating the emulsified waste to support Mack Trucks, the only customer that uses the service.

The Washington County Commissioners, who must decide what to do with the pretreatment plant and water and sewer rates, directed staff Tuesday to look at the cost of closing the plant versus the cost of keeping it open.

In other business, the advisory commission recommended unanimously that the County Commissioners hold water and sewer rates flat.

County staff members have recommended rate increases that would cost a residential customer using 12,000 gallons a quarter 11.3 percent more for sewer and 2.39 percent more for water. Another option presented Thursday would lower the sewer rate increase to 5 percent for residential customers and increase some commercial user rates 13.9 percent.

Commission members said they couldn't support a rate increase on top of major rate increases for most customers last year. Members suggested a larger general fund contribution, cutting the water and sewer expenses and adding users to balance the budget.

Another suggestion was charging owners of apartments and other multi-family dwellings the base water and sewer charge for each unit. The owners are charged the base rate once and a volume rate after that. The change effectively would increase rates on those owners substantially.

The Water and Sewer Department has a $56 million debt.

The County Commissioners balanced the department's budget last year with a $2.7 million general fund subsidy and by restructuring the debt.

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