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Infrastructure: Our Shared Investment

12/21/11 | by [mail] | Categories: culture/news

Flush a toilet, take a shower or drive across town. What makes these important, everyday things possible? Over several generations the citizens of our community have pooled their resources in the form of a city government. One of the main functions of that government is to build and maintain the infrastructure that we all depend on: streets, water and sewer. If we want to see our community flourish, we must continue to invest in the maintenance and expansion of these vital systems.

In the summer of 2011, the city street crew applied three inches of asphalt to 1st Street, Old 71 and Kentucky Street. In the summer of 2010, they did the same to 8th Street. That spring the city government purchased the equipment to allow our crew to do this work in-house, stretching your tax dollars to cover as much street as possible. I'm proud of the work of our crew has done and I look forward to seeing the improvements they bring to other streets in the coming years. All of this is possible because the citizens of Adrian voted on a tax issue in 2000 to provide funds for street maintenance. The money was raised ahead of time and the work was done without borrowing money.

In 2010 and 2011 city crews and private contractors replaced over three miles of water mains in the city. These new lines deliver water to local homes and businesses and provide enough pressure to supply fire hydrants around the city. Many of the retired water mains were smaller, corroded, cast-iron pipes.

In 2009, after years of frequent boil orders, the city of Adrian opened its new water treatment facility. The 500,000 gallon per day membrane filtration system was capable of providing clean, safe water to the residents of Adrian for the next two decades at least. In the fall of 2011 the plant capacity was doubled to 1,000,000 gallons per day, enough to provide water to the city of Adrian and Public Water Supply District #5, which serves the surrounding area.

These improvements were possible because of a new contract with District #5 and because we made use of grants and low-interest loans. But, the city also had to increase water rates to cover the ongoing costs of producing cleaner water in the new plant. That rate increase would not have been so dramatic if the city had gradually raised its rates as the old plant approached the end of its life. While I'm convinced that our new water production system is worth the cost, I think there are lessons to be learned when it comes to future infrastructure improvements.

Our sewer system is the next element of our infrastructure that needs some attention. Aging and leaky sewer lines around town are allowing too much water into the system, which risks overloading our simple lagoon based sewage treatment system. In a few spots, the water coursing through leaky sewer lines is even allowing raw sewage to escape the lines after heavy rainfall. The city council has already begun to consult with our engineering company about ways to assess what needs to be done to our sewer system.

For years now, the city has been pursuing grant money for sewer improvements, but we also need to begin to gradually raise our rates. That's why I proposed a $0.50 increase (per 1000 gallons) in December of 2011. The rate change passed, so a household that uses 3000 gallons of water per month will see their sewer bill go from $10.50 per month to $12 per month. I don't take this increase lightly, but I think we should start to invest in our sewer system now rather than waiting until we have an emergency and need a dramatic rate increase.

This spring we will perform some tests on the sewer system and then we’ll be able to plan for addressing the system’s most critical problems. Our sewer rates are still lower than most towns in the area and there will almost certainly be a few more gradual rate increases in the coming years.

We will continue to pursue federal and state funds to help with the costs of these improvements. You may be able to help with one of these. One of the grants we would like to apply for requires that we first collect some data about the income levels of a random selection of households. We have sent out these surveys twice, but there haven’t been enough responses to allow us to apply for the grant. If you received a survey, but didn’t return it, please call or stop by city hall and get another copy of it. It won’t take more than a minute to fill out and it will make a big difference for our infrastructure and the rates we charge over the coming years.

The health of a city’s infrastructure is no accident. It requires careful planning, wise management of limited resources and, most importantly, a shared investment by the citizens of our community.


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