Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Mayor says voters should be given options and decide the fate of Midway's water system

By Dick Yarmy
University of Kentucky School of Journalism and Telecommunications

Mayor Tom Bozarth helped shape the fact-finding efforts of the Midway Water and Sewer Task Force last week when he announced he would like to let voters decide the future of the city-owned utilities.

“It’s the proper thing to do,” Bozarth said. “We need to have a referendum, put it on the ballot. "It’s not right for seven people [the city council and mayor] to decide what will ultimately affect the citizens of Midway. They need to be the ones that make the decision.”

The task force is considering options to improve the water system, including a sale to the water supplier, Kentucky American Water Co. The sewer system could also be affected.

Consultant Mark Roberts, Council Member
Dan Roller (Photo by Dick Yarmy)
Mark Roberts, Midway’s public-works consultant, reported on work sessions with Bob Blankenship of HMB Professional Engineers to flesh out Blankenship’s original cost estimate for improvements, reported at last month’s task force meeting.

“The first time we met, I pointed out what I thought were the trouble spots,” said Roberts. “We addressed them as priority projects.” The projects were outlined to the task force and estimated at a cost of $1,423,150. To view his report, click here.

A report on work for the rest of the system, with a total cost of $1,550,000, can be viewed here.

This two-stage solution to updating the system was estimated to have a life of 50 years, Roberts said, but he cautioned that updating the system and switching to PVC pipe “doesn’t mean it’ll all be roses.” He mentioned flushing, normal maintenance and cold-weather problems as possible issues facing even an updated system.

Council Member Sharon Turner asked about benefits of improving the water and sewer systems at the same time. Roberts said there could be savings in paving costs.

“Where are we as far as money is concerned?” asked task force member Danny Smith. Bozarth took the question as an opportunity to explain his detailed vision for the task force's mission.

“This report only covers one part, the water,” the mayor said. “Then we have to tackle the sewer and find the costs for both. That’ll tell us what we need to do. We need to get all the information to know whether to take it on, have a bond issue or apply for grants –– it’s an issue that can’t be dealt with overnight.”

He added, “We need to look under every stone, find out who might be interested in our system, collect all the facts and propose a solution to the people of Midway in a town hall meeting. We hope to have option A, B and C: Sell the assets, partner with someone, or do it ourselves –– we need three clear-cut choices. We aren’t there yet.”

Council member Dan Roller was concerned about language in a letter from the city to American Water, the parent of Kentucky American. “It only talks about American acquiring our system,” he said.

Bozarth said the letter was just the beginning of a process with the company. “We can see if they have other interests, like partnering with us,’’ Bozarth said, “What we want to do as a task force is look at every option. We can talk to them about other agreements like a partnership, where we would be still be eligible for grants; that would help them also.”

Roy Mundy, task force member and former president of Kentucky American, said “I know they prefer to own the system, because it is easier for them. . “But they are flexible and willing to talk about anything within reason.” Mundy added that his opinions were based only on his past knowledge as an officer of the company.

The task force will continue to research options to present to the council; cost estimates are still to come on refurbishing the sewer system. A proposal is expected from Kentucky American, followed by a search for other interested parties to purchase or partner the systems, and exploration the viability of bond issues to finance the repairs. Bozarth said after the meeting that he had not researched how the options could be put on the ballot.

So, the task force still has several steps ahead to provide information that will help Midway make an informed decision. As Bozarth said, “This is an issue that can’t be dealt with overnight.”

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