In the wee hours of City Council’s marathon meeting last week, tucked at the end of an issue-packed agenda, council gave a tentative OK to borrowing up to $90 million to upgrade Columbia’s water and sewage system.
The 7-0 decision to commit water and sewage customers to repaying the loan was the last item on the agenda. The unanimous vote occurred close to 3:30 a.m. as meetings that began about 2 p.m. Aug. 13 ended.
Council must vote a second time before the “revenue bonds,” as the loans are called, become final. That’s likely to occur at the Sept. 3 meeting.
The spending is part of council’s commitment to pump $100 million this fiscal year into improving the water and sewage systems. The monthly rates council adopted last year and then altered this year because of outcries are contributing $12 million toward the balance not covered by the loans, said utilities director Joey Jaco.
In broad terms, the borrowed money is to be divvied in half between 44 water system improvements and 54 upgrades to the sewage system. The work is scheduled for the fiscal year that began July 1, according to a projects list released by city officials.
The biggest-ticket water projects, Jaco said, are:
• $16.5 million to install elevated water tanks and water lines to serve customers in the northeast part of the city and the Dutch Fork area
• $9 million to improve the disinfection system at the Lake Murray water plant and to upgrade or replace equipment at the plant
• $4 million to move lines along Hardscrabble Road because of planned street-widening by the state Transportation Department
The biggest-ticket sewage projects are:
• $15.5 million to evaluate the integrity of 108 miles of sewage lines and 3,100 manholes that serve customers in the Irmo and Seven Oaks areas northwest of the city.
$11.5 million to install 25 miles of 30-inch pipe off Bluff Road, near Mill Creek, in the southern part of the city. The pressurized pipe carries sewage to the city treatment plant.
• $7.5 million to remodel the former Newsome Chevrolet property along Beltline Boulevard and convert it to a maintenance center for workers and their equipment. The maintenance building is now housed at the city’s public works center off Harden Street.
A sampling of three council members who voted to issue the bonds last week indicates that no one objected to voting to commit water and sewagecustomers to as much as $90 million of debt at a time of the morning when the once-packed room at the Eau Claire print building had dwindled to mostly city staffers and attorneys who advised the city on issuing the bonds.
Councilwoman Tameika Isaac Devine said she raised the issue of delaying a vote.
“I actually said earlier (in the meeting) that we should hold that (vote),” Devine said Tuesday. “I can’t remember what happened, but I was pretty much ignored.”
She and council members Leona Plaugh and Cameron Runyan said they believed the public had plenty of opportunity to know about the plans to commit the money. It has been discussed at several council work sessions, they said.
Few residents attend work sessions.
Plaugh, often called council’s fiscal conservative, said her vote was driven in part by interest rates that are beginning to climb after years of near-record lows.
Major Columbia projects
Columbia City Council has given tentative approval to incurring up to $90 million in debt to pay for improvements to the city’s water and sewage systems. Here is a sampling of some of the 98 projects on this fiscal year’s to-do list.
$16.5 million to install elevated water tanks and water lines to serve customers in the northeast part of the city and the Dutch Fork area.
$15.5 million to evaluate the integrity of 108 miles of sewage lines that serve customers in the Irmo and Seven Oaks area northwest of the city.
$11.5 million to install 25 miles of 30-inch sewer pipe off Bluff Road near Mill Creek in the southern part of the city.
SOURCE: Columbia’s capital improvement projects list
Reach LeBlanc at (803) 771-8664.