After years of discussion and significant delays, the Clinton City Council has approved moving forward with a $6.3 million water plant expansion project that local officials said is vital to the growth and sustainability of Sampson’s seat.
The overall scale of the Parsons-Anders Water Treatment Facility project was modified last month due to cost concerns — from an expansion of 1.5 million gallons daily (MGD) to 1 MGD — with stipulations in place that would allow the city to easily expand to the original 1.5 MGD amount should incoming industry and residents dictate that need.
Leading into the topic at Tuesday night’s regular Council meeting, carried over from last month, Clinton Mayor Lew Starling did not mince words in explaining just how vital the subject and the Council’s decision was.
“The most important decision we’re going to make in this Council’s lifetime is this water plant expansion,” said Starling. “That is our most important decision for the future of the city. Our main job is providing fresh water for our citizens and for our industry, and this is very important. It is a lot of money and I’ve lost a lot of sleep over this, but I feel strongly this is the right thing to do for the future of our town.”
City staff told Council members last month that the water plant expansion to double Clinton’s capacity and prepare it for industrial, residential and commercial growth would come with a steeper price tag, with new estimates putting the full proposed project at about $7 million — more than $2 million over budget.
City manager Shawn Purvis recapped the project Tuesday, noting the original estimated cost of $4.8 million and the difficulties in well development that increased costs and prolonged the project, leading to higher bids for expansion and a new $7 million price tag. Upon direction from Council, city staff worked with engineers to reduced the capacity to 1 MGD and subsequent cost to $6.32 million.
“We just wanted to make sure we were financially responsible,” Purvis noted. “That extra half million (gallons) will be ready to go at a future time. Everything is ready to go if needed. We could easily finish and know we have a revenue source coming and not affect the (utility) rates.”
Planning for the project began in 2012, with construction of the wells coming in 2014. The overall goal is to provide the capacity to serve existing and prospective industries. After some roadblocks, wells are now built and the city has progressed to bidding for the final two phases — transmission lines installation and water plant expansion.
City officials said it was “crucial” to maintain sufficient water supply in planning for Clinton’s growth. The city currently can produce about 2.8 MGD and has an average daily demand close to 2 MGD, but a maximum demand of 2.6 MGD. The full project of 1.5 MGD would bring capacity to 4.3 MGD.
“There is some need to increase our capacity,” Public Works director Jeff Vreugdenhil conceded last month. “The wells we finally have developed are very, very good,” Vreugdenhil continued. “It would be much more comforting to management and to me if we had a customer looking for half a million gallons of water a day, but we don’t.”
City administrative staff spoke with USDA officials to secure an additional $200,000 grant and $125,000 has already been included in the current year’s budget, bringing the city’s revised finance amount to $5.99 million.
“That is an additional $1.15 million over what we had originally had in our models,” said Purvis. “That equates to about $40,000 to $45,000 additional debt service a year.”
That amount corresponds to a 1 percent increase in water and sewer rates, a hike that does not account for other water and sewer costs that may require a projected 3 percent increase in the future. Finance director Kristin Stafford said that water and sewer rates may need to increase 4 percent in fiscal years 2017-18 and 2018- 19 — $1.99 per month and $2.06 per month for the average household, respectively — to cover the additional debt.
Currently, Stafford noted, there is residential construction within the city that will generate approximately $30,000 a year in water and sewer revenue, offsetting about two-thirds of that additional debt and leaving an additional $15,000 with which to contend.
“We are fairly confident we can absorb the rest,” Purvis remarked. “The city’s water and sewer system is its primary economic development driver and ensuring an adequate supply is critical for growth. While the cost overruns are a challenge, the additional debt is not insurmountable and it should not negatively affect the fund’s financial condition.”
With a USDA grant and city funds reducing the amount of debt needed to finance the project, the city will still need to incur an additional $1.56 million USDA loan to complete the project. The revised payment amount will be approximately $243,000 a year for 40 years. Purvis said the city will need to consider the potential effects of additional debt on future capital projects.
Council members agreed that a quality and sustainable water system was key in that future.
“We can’t grow without ample water, and we’ve never had that problem,” Starling continued. “This would put us ahead of the curve in planning for the future.”
Councilman Steve Stefanovich said it was something that “we need to do.”
The Council unanimously agreed, moving forward with awarding the final two phases of the water system expansion, including construction of the wells and installation of transmission lines. Those contracts were awarded to State Utility Contractors and Herring-Rivenbark Inc., respectively.
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