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By Gail Morin 

Elmer City's true costs are higher

Letters to the Editor

 


In the Wednesday, March 6, article about Coulee Dam's charges for Waste Water Treatment Plant (WWTP) expenses it read, “The remainder of what Elmer City charges its customers is administrative fees.”

The words “administrative fees” should be exchanged for “maintenance and operation expenses.”

Elmer City pays for labor, supplies, equipment repair and/or replacement and electrical power costs to collect and transport waste to Coulee Dam. And when the sewer treatment expenses are $12,000 over what we had expected, it is sometimes difficult. Elmer City does not charge for sewer treatment for sewer connections that are inactive, i.e. empty lots or uninhabited residences. The actual Elmer City service area cost-per-household for Coulee Dam's sewer treatment is closer to $22 per month, not the reported $18. The inactive lots/residences will have to pay for any new loans. I’m not certain who will bill them and how they will be billed for any proposed loan. The past planning costs for the proposed “improvements” have not been billed to anyone in Elmer City.

The most we have been charged by Coulee Dam for sewer treatment expenses is $50,000. Without grants or other funding sources for the new “improvements,” the total payment to Coulee Dam for operations and loan payments (since they will be the loan holder) would be at least $135,000 a year, probably more. Elmer City council certainly has not approved the project scope or financing method. Elmer City has never agreed to fund another town’s indebtedness. Coulee Dam is currently billing the town customers a “test” rate increase of $22 a month. It is simply part of the $59-a-month bill and is not identified as anything other than Sewer. Where is that money going? Well some of it is considered B&O tax (18 percent) and is going to the Current Expense Fund and will not support any part of the WWTP.

The cost for operations at the Coulee Dam plant for treating sewage was $110,435 in 2001. Elmer City’s share of operations for the same year was $21,761 or 19.7 percent. The cost of operations in 2011 was $201,163, with Elmer City paying 25 percent or $50,618. Why do the cost of operations concern me, and anyone else being served? Coulee Dam’s annual rate of increase for the 10 years between 2011 and 2001 was 8.2 percent. Elmer City and the Lone Pine area’s annual rate of increase was 13.3 percent. These increases in rates far exceed the cost of living for the past 10 years. I don’t want to think what the increases will be in the next 10 years, but I can only guess it will be the same.

My confidence in the town of Coulee Dam isn’t strong. Their history of public meetings has been lacking. The 2005 or 2007 (not sure of the date) meeting announcing the wish for an upgraded sewage treatment plant was well advertised and well attended. The results of that meeting probably were not expected. During that meeting the lights went out and the standing-room-only crowd was treated to a slide show proposing changes to the WWTP. When the lights came on there was an immediate reaction. The townspeople were not happy. They demanded the faulty sewer lines be fixed. Seems they don’t like sewage backing up into their homes.

The next meeting about 2010 was well advertised, but the time given was 6:30 p.m. It actually started at 6 p.m. and was over before those wishing to attend arrived.

In the last year there have been several meetings. I attended a meeting in Coulee Dam last spring and again heard the engineer’s presentation. Questions were asked, but few were sufficiently answered. I did hear the cost of the renovation was $5.2 million. The following week the engineers made a similar presentation to the Elmer City council. That (workshop) meeting was supposed to be closed to the public (Coulee Dam mayor’s request and he actually tried blocking the doorway), but several area people attended and were not turned away by the Elmer City mayor. We were not allowed to make any comments at the “super secret meeting,” however. The new cost was $4.9 million. The next public meeting held in Elmer City was well advertised and well attended. Public comments and questions were allowed. When the Coulee Dam mayor was asked, we were told Elmer City’s share was 25 percent or about $1.2 million and there were no grants. Several regular Coulee Dam meetings included WWTP in the agenda. In one meeting, I was actually scoffed when I suggested looking for grants. “No such thing,” I was told. Elmer City has never done a major capital outlay without a grant. When thinking about any of the meetings, the words open and welcoming do not come to my mind.

In the last few weeks there have been two meetings in Coulee Dam. A special meeting was held on Martin Luther King Day, two days before the regular meeting. It was announced on the city hall door the preceding Friday. The last meeting was a regularly scheduled meeting, but the presentation was not announced in a timely manner. Elmer City did not receive the email from Coulee Dam until seven hours before the presentation.

How did that meeting go, you ask? Well, I left before it was over. What was the purpose of the meeting? It was an attempt by the engineer to discount any concerns and questions. Papa knows best, is what I heard. There was misinformation, scolding, and downright rudeness. I was the first to become tired of listening to the spitting contest and picked up my coat and excused myself.

Gail Morin

Elmer City Town

Council Woman

 

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