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Budget discussion includes proposal to raise water utility rates

The 2013 budget for Sunnyside's public works department was the topic at last night's city council meeting with discussion on the city's use of water in all its stages becoming the main focus as the night wore on.

In a meeting with almost no public attendance, Interim City Manager Frank Sweet started with the announcement that the central services portion of the budget is going to be absorbed into the departments that benefit from it, and will no longer be a line item.

That announcement triggered a discussion of the city's water rights. The city is a senior rights holder, according to council members, but is paying more than $15,000 a year to Sunnyside Valley Irrigation District for water that it cannot use and, according to Sweet, cannot lease to other entities.

The area covered by the contract includes 576 acres of the downtown core from Sixth Street to 16th Street and from North Avenue to Lincoln Avenue. Sweet said the city would like to convert the irrigation rights to municipal water rights.

After that discussion, Public Works Superintendent Shane Fisher presented the budget for the city's water fund. There were few questions regarding the budget, but a discussion of backflow regulations in the city was started by Deputy Mayor Don Vlieger, who asked how enforcement of the regulations was proceeding.

Discussion also covered the new buildings the department is preparing next to the wastewater buildings and how soon employees would be able to move into the new space.

Sweet also made it clear that an across the board 3 percent rate increase in water utility rates will be proposed at the Monday, Dec. 3, budget workshop.

Fisher next presented the sewer fund budget which also received only a few comments on particular items. A line item for professional services prompted a discussion about the city staff's proposal to upgrade equipment to deal with sewage.

Vlieger questioned the use of city money for upgrading blowers used in irrigation basins because the payback is comparatively small. Although the city is using a lot of electricity to run the machines, Vleiger was concerned that the upgrade would not save the city enough to justify the costs.

The city would also like to purchase a screw press to remove excess water from solid waste, reducing hauling costs. If a dryer is added to the system, the waste can be turned into class A, which can be safely used for fertilizer. However, the costs for the upgrades would be close to $750,000, so the discussion revolved around long-term planning and looking at other options.

The council also discussed the way the city staff continues to manually check sewer lift stations despite the remote telemetry having been accurate for several years. Council was concerned that it was a waste of employee time.

Fisher presented the budget for storm water last, and the discussion became heated as Councilman Jim Restucci related past difficulties with trying to change the fee scheme for storm water.

Restucci noted that the city has a blue ribbon committee that should be consulted before any fee changes are made. Sweet said the city had planned to ask for a 3 percent increase in storm water rates along with all other water utility rates.

The meeting ended with discussion of the federal mandates for storm water and how the city can comply with regulations without harming landowners in the city.

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