Sewage plant funding discussed

The third and final phase of Marietta’s wastewater treatment plant upgrade will cost an estimated $16,693,000, according to city engineer Joe Tucker, who addressed city council’s water, sewer and sanitation committee Thursday.

“We’re seeking a $400,000 grant from the Ohio Public Works Commission and can obtain a zero percent loan of up to $1 million from OPWC,” he said. The remainder is being financed through bond anticipation notes (BAN funding).”

Tucker said the city normally applies for a $400,000 OPWC grant to help pay for the annual streets paving program.

“But with this project cost we felt we have to seek out as much funding as we can,” he said. “It could be challenging for our next year’s streets paving budget, but we’ll have to get by.”

“Why not apply for the full $16 million?” asked Councilman Tom Vukovic, D-4th Ward, who chairs council’s finance committee.

Tucker said the city is limited to requesting no more than $500,000 annually from the public works commission.

He added that he’s also applying for loan assistance funding from OPWC that will pay down some of the interest on loans the city has taken out for all three phases of the wastewater treatment plant project. The assistance amounts to $254,000 on the first phase loan and $294,000 for the second phase.

Tucker said the interest assistance for the third phase will be more, due to the higher cost of that portion of the project.

On another wastewater-related topic, Councilman Mike McCauley, D-2nd Ward, said he had received some complaints about odor coming from the wastewater plant recently.

“But that’s only a temporary situation,” he said. “We’re aware of it.”

He said the contractor on the plant upgrade is in the process of changing over the centrifuge for the clarifier equipment at the plant, but once that process is completed and the equipment installed, there should be no more noticeable odor emanating from the facility.

Since construction began the city has been purchasing a special deodorizing chemical that is added to the sludge dewatering process to help control odor problems in the area surrounding the plant until new processing equipment is installed.

Also on Thursday city assistant safety-service director Bill Dauber presented a financial forecast during a joint session of council’s employee relations and finance committees.

He said the report would help provide council members and the city’s three bargaining units with some idea of Marietta’s financial status as contract negotiations are beginning with the police, fire and teamsters unions.

“Our financials are better than during some past years, with an estimated 4 percent increase from the income tax and additional revenue from the city’s bed tax,” Dauber said.

But he noted that the city’s expenses, including nearly $800,000 on a public records lawsuit filed against the city in 2011 by Edward and Dorothy Verhovec of Tuscarawas County, would be cutting into the city’s revenues.

City law director Paul Bertram III is in the process of filing to recover a portion of the money, but that amount, if recoverable from the Verhovecs, is expected to be less than half the total expended on the suit.

Vukovic said the city may also face a loss of income tax revenue if legislation working its way through the Ohio General Assembly, House Bill 5, is enacted.

The proposed measure attempts to create a uniform tax collection process for municipalities across the state.

“Provisions in this bill will cost us money,” Vukovic said. “A couple of years ago it was estimated the city could lose as much as $250,000 a year if this legislation is passed.”

Dauber noted passage of HB 5 would impact the 4 percent growth the city expects to realize in income tax revenues headed into next year.

But Mayor Joe Matthews said he’s not convinced HB 5 will be passed this year.

“This is an election year, and there are too many people against it now,” he said.

In addition to concerns about HB 5 and the public records lawsuit payments, Dauber said the city tries to maintain a $1.2 million carryover at the end of the year to help cover payroll and other costs going into the new year.

Vukovic said in 2005 the city’s general fund was down to the hundreds of dollars range at the end of the year.

“So we set $1.2 million as a carryover amount to prevent that from happening again,” he said.

Employee relations committee chairman Michael Mullen, I-at large, thanked Dauber for the financial report.

“We’ll look at this historic budget data which will help justify what we’re able to offer during contract negotiations,” he said.