The Smithville Aldermen Monday night voted 3 to 2 to budget $1.4 million from almost $4 million in water and sewer fund reserves in order to make renovations to the water treatment plant.
The money will be set aside during the 2009-2010 fiscal year, which begins July 1st.
Alderman Tonya Sullivan, who brought up the issue, thanked the board for taking this action in a prepared statement after the meeting. "I would like to thank the board for having the insight to take swift action to ensure the safety of our water. Safe drinking water is at the forefront now with the board committing $1.4 million for the next budget year for the water treatment plant renovations. This board put a good foot forward in securing safe water for all citizens in DeKalb County. The leadership that was exemplified will make a lasting impact on generations to come."
Aldermen Sullivan, Jerry Hutchins, Sr. and Willie Thomas voted in favor while Aldermen Cecil Burger and Steve White voted no.
The city recently applied a second time for a $500,000 Community Development Block Grant to help fund the water plant rehab project and Alderman White said he was concerned that if the city commits to spending this much money now it might jeopardize the city's chances of getting the grant.
Meanwhile, the aldermen also voted 5 to 0 to have the city's engineering firm, the J.R. Wauford Company provide an updated report at the next meeting on the upgrades that need to be made at the water plant and the cost estimates.
The most recent report by Wauford on the condition of the water plant was released in January 2008.
Alderman Sullivan said she toured the water plant on January 19th, 2009 and saw for herself the conditions there.
The following is an exchange between Alderman Sullivan and Mayor Taft Hendrixson during Monday night's meeting
Alderman Sullivan:"The state of the water department, on the day that I went, looked like a makeshift water department. Mr. Mayor, how many times have you been to the water plant?"
Mayor Hendrixson: "Well, I don't know how many times."
Alderman Sullivan: "What state did you find it in when you went? When I went, there was standing water, electrical panels, there's equipment that's leaking and not functioning properly. There are infractions from the state that are in here (January 2008 Wauford engineering report) that have not been repaired. There are recommendations from Wauford that call for a renovation of this plant. We've not taken action on that and this report has not been made available to this board."
Mayor Hendrixson: "I asked (January 2008) that we put $900,000 out of city money (matching funds) to get a CDBG Block Grant for $500,000"
Alderman Sullivan: "But we didn't" (get the grant)
Mayor Hendrixson: "We didn't but we're putting in again (for the grant)"
Alderman Sullivan: "This water plant is in a state of emergency. Had that ice storm hit Smithville instead of Kentucky (last week) we would be the ones without water because you don't even have generators down there."
Mayor Hendrixson:" There's never been one (generators) down there."
Alderman Sullivan: "No, but they (generators) are in the (Wauford) report. They are recommended to be there."
Mayor Hendrixson: "Yes"
Alderman Sullivan: "Mayor you are jeopardizing 15,000 people by not taking action."
Mayor Hendrixson: I can't take action myself Ms. Sullivan, the board has to do this."
Alderman Sullivan: "Okay, that's my intent tonight. If we had fixed the problems as they happened as opposed to letting it go long term we wouldn't have to spend $1.4 million."
Mayor Hendrixson: "What did you find we needed to fix?"
Alderman Sullivan: Well sir, I think everything that the engineering firm has recommended, we need to fix."
Mayor Hendrixson: "I agree and I want to do it."
Alderman Sullivan: "Is there a reason during your tenure that you haven't fixed it or brought it before this board to fix?"
Mayor Hendrixson:"I'm trying to get a half million dollar grant. I brought this before the board."
Alderman Sullivan: "You have the money in the bank to fix it."
Mayor Hendrixson: "We do"
Alderman Sullivan: "Then that's what we should be doing, we shouldn't wait until it falls apart and we're in a state of emergency, such as Kentucky is in, before we do this."
Mayor Hendrixson: "I don't think it's (water plant) about to fall apart at any time. It does need some repair and I want to do it. I've proposed to put $900,000 out of city money."
Alderman Sullivan: "But you didn't propose to start action."
Mayor Hendrixson: "No I wanted to wait to see if we could get a half million dollars given to us."
Alderman Sullivan: "Alright, but we didn't get it."
Mayor Hendrixson: No, but we're trying again.'
Alderman Sullivan: "We can't keep waiting."
Greg Davenport, consulting engineer for the J.R. Wauford Company, also addressed the mayor and aldermen Monday night concerning the condition of the water plant. "It was originally constructed in 1966 and it was updated in 1978 as well as the pumps at the intake or pump house at the lake."
"Smithville was successful in obtaining about $2 million in CDBG grants for rehabilitation of the sewer system over the last ten years. Then as the cat kind of got out of the bag on sewer rehab, Smithville came to me and said ‘what should we do?'. I said well your water plant needs some work so lets put in a CDBG grant for that. This application was filed probably in January, 2008. That has become a highly competitive program and I believe Smithville missed it (getting grant) by one municipality. In other words, if there were thirty in there and you guys were number sixteen, then fifteen and up got funded."
Concerning findings at the water treatment plant, Davenport said "as part of the report, we went through each of the unit processes and more or less determined some of the weaknesses that the plant has. As you can see in the report, it's about $1.4 million worth of work. Some of the things that are wrong at the plant, in my opinion need to be fixed immediately, like the switch gear problems down there at the high service pumps. The water in the slab. That needs to somehow be addressed. It's unsafe."
"Some of the things that need to be done are not really what you'd call emergency items, but they need to be done. For instance, the plant control system. It needs to be renovated and updated to what I call state of the state. The filter under drains have been in there since 1978. They are porcelain style and with grout they are prone to crack. Is it creating an unsafe condition for the citizens as of this minute? My opinion is no but it's undesirable."
"The standby power is an item that could create a catastrophe. The probability of that is not very high. I can't answer how expeditiously you should pursue those things. All I can do is present the risk to you. And the risk is if you have a major ice storm, you could be without water. But that is not something that the state wrote you up for per se in their report. It's something that they would like to see."