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Temporary or permanent? Council mulls Windmill sewer

SOLON– The developer is ready to proceed, but the city is not.
An additional phase for Windmill Estates is in a holding pattern as the city decides how best to address sewer needs for the subdivision.
The City Council discussed the constraints of a substantial debt repayment schedule last week when considering how to pay for a new wastewater lift station, trunk sewer line and water tower.
It is a challenge for any government to pay for the wants and needs of services and capital improvements, and the City of Solon proved to be no exception.
Everything from new warning sirens, a fire station addition and infrastructure needs came into play as paying for new projects was a key topic at the June 18 council meeting.
The city has $797,939 in debt payments due during the 2014-2015 fiscal year, or $391.72 per Solon resident based on the 2010 U.S. Census.
The city’s indebtedness drops to $658,856 in FY 2015-2016, and $641,678 in FY 2016-2017.
The Iowa Constitution constrains the city in Article XI, Section 3, which limits the debt a municipality can incur to five percent of the value of taxable property within city limits.
“The City of Solon has a 100 percent valuation of $160,930,408 (regular plus agricultural land), so the city’s limit is $8,046,520,” said Johnson County Deputy Auditor Mark Kistler in an email.
At the beginning of FY 2014-2015, the city will have an outstanding debt of $6.256 million, according to City Administrator Cami Rasmussen.
Whether city debt will be a constraint to growth was illustrated by the council’s discussion of Phase 6 of the Windmill Estates subdivision.
Developer John Schmidt requested to be on the council’s agenda to get an answer on infrastructure support for Windmill Estates. As the Economist reported in April, the decision for council is whether to install a temporary lift station at an estimated cost of $100,000, or to install a permanent trunk sewer line at a cost of more than $1 million. No decision had been made at the April 17 meeting, but it became clear the city can’t afford the greater expense.
“It really comes down to the lift station need due to the fact of having to raise it up to the level of the pipe that crosses the road, compared to the north trunk sewer, which we’re just not ready to do at this time,” said Mayor Steve Stange to start the discussion.
“Is the city going to put in the lift station then, to make that work?” asked Schmidt.
“What have we done in other developments when there is infrastructure like that that needs to go in?” asked Councilor Brad Kunkel.
“They provided it for us,” said Councilor Mark Krall.
“The developer has?” clarified Kunkel.
“Yeah. The last big one,” replied Krall, referring to Fox Ridge.
“This was always planned to have sewer available when we reached (this point). There was never a lift station in any of the plats,” said Schmidt. “I think the goal is that the impact fee and everything that’s paid as this project went along for all these years should have helped offset that.”
The impact fees were paid for infrastructure support for the development, according to City Engineer Dave Schechinger. Infrastructure included a water tower, extending the trunk sewer line, capacity of the wastewater plant, and a well, but not a temporary lift station.
“Where are we at as far as a timeline to getting the north trunk sewer line?” asked Stange.
“I think really what this depends upon is the ability to be able finance it,” replied Schechinger.
“That’s why I provided you the sheet that shows (our debt payment schedule). We don’t start to see some relief for a few years,” said Rasmussen. “We’re at the point where we need the water tower, or some ground storage. We also need the north trunk sewer line.”
Based on the debt schedule, she said, the city will need to wait for a time when additional debt payments could be absorbed.
“Council is going to have decisions to make in the next few years as we get a little (borrowing) capacity for these two projects,” she added.
Council delayed a decision on whether the developer or the city would finance the temporary lift station. They referred the matter to the utilities committee, and then to the finance committee for recommendations on how to pay for the lift station, and who would bear the cost.
Stange directed the matter be placed on the next council agenda.
In other business, council approved acquisition of an encoder for the outdoor warning siren system using funds donated to the city for that purpose.
Council also approved a second reading of the 25-year non-exclusive electric franchise agreement with Alliant Energy; renewal applications for liquor, beer and wine licenses for Sam’s Main Street Market; and cigarette permit renewals for Casey’s General Store, Sam’s Main Street Market and RJZ Express.
There was a discussion of moving the polling place from the fire station to city hall. County Auditor Travis Weipert was present to answer council questions. The change should be made in time for the Nov. 4 general election, and perhaps, for a possible Sept. 9 school bond issue election, pending resolution of county issues with the new site.
The next city council meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, July 2, at 5:30 p.m. at city hall.