PRESTON – The Preston City Council voted unanimously Monday night to by-pass voters and seek judicial confirmation to fund construction of a new waste water treatment plant.
Residents of Preston will see their sewer rates nearly double in the near future to help pay for the facility.
“We really did want the voters to have a say in it, but at the end of the day it’s something that has to be done,” said council member Terry Larson. “We don’t have an option.”
The city didn’t have an option because in its current condition, the existing 30-year old treatment plant does not meet Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) required effluent limits.
City leaders were told to bring the plant up to compliance by 2025 or face stiff fines that amounted to $80,000 per day.
To pay for the facility, the city had the option of pursuing a bond through the election process or by judicial confirmation, where a judge issues an order for the bond.
“We could hold a bond election and if it failed we would have no choice but to go to judicial confirmation,” Larson said. Either way, residents will be on the financial hook to upgrade to DEQ standards.
“My personal philosophy is I’ve never liked the judicial confirmation law,” stated Mayor Dan Keller. “But in this particular case we absolutely have no choice. It didn’t seem like it was proper to say to the citizens ‘please vote for this bond and if you don’t we are going to do it anyway.’
“I feel like the sooner we get this going, the less expensive it will be for for the tax payers with the costs of inflation as well as interest rates are at an all time low.”
So how much will it cost residents? Neither Keller nor Larson could say.
The engineering firm hired by the city to perform the wastewater studies and build the facility is finalizing the numbers and won’t have exact figures for another four to six weeks.
Sewer rates in the city are currently $30.25 per month. Median rates across the State of Idaho are about $55. City leaders have been told if they want to qualify for future cost saving grants they will have to increase rates to be within the state median.
“The fact of the matter is that rates will almost double and it’s going to be tough,” Keller said. “There are lots of resources for financing and environmental supported grants that we can apply for. We’ve been backed into a corner and it’s politically, individually and philosophically a very, very tough decision.”
“Every city in Idaho is going through the same thing,” the Mayor continued. “Without exception, they have told me you need to get it done sooner than later. It will save you 10-30% if you just get the thing done now.”
Talk of a new waste water treatment plant was floated to residents more than a year ago, along with coming up with a plan for a secondary source of culinary water. City leaders held three town hall meetings and sought public input but the council could never come to a consensus on how to fund either project.
While the city has no choice but to move forward on a new sewer plant, there is no mandate for a secondary water source so that idea continues to be put on the back burner, for now.