Aiken City Council learned Monday that Phase One of a multi-year battle plan to repair aging infrastructure could cost up to $28.4 million. Officials are confident, however, that the project can be funded without raising property taxes or user fees during the next fiscal year.
The plan calls for spending $16.3 million for water and sewer projects City engineers have designated highest priority. Another $12 million is estimated for storm water projects.
The City plans to use several funding sources including cash on hand, revenue bonds, voter-approved Capital Project Sales Tax dollars, recurring revenue from monthly water and sewer customers, and a low-interest revolving loan issued by the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
In all, $10 million, if approved, would come from the DHEC loan. Another $6.5 million would come from revenue bonds. Fixed interest rates will remain between 1.8 percent and 4 percent, according to projections.
Staff from the Engineering, Planning and Finance departments worked on the fiscally responsible plan presented Monday to Council, City Manager John Klimm said. Representatives from First Tryon, a Charlotte-based financial advisory group, were hired to run cost analysis, as well. “What you have before you is a reasonable first step to get us on track and maintain a comfortable financial cushion, Klimm told council members.
Future phases of the rehabilitation program may require consideration of an increase in the storm water rate paid by City utility customers. The Council will likely hear priorities for Phase 2 of the infrastructure project in late winter/early spring of next year. Officials have said it may take 5 years or longer to complete the entire program.
There is little doubt, however, that work needs to be done — and quickly. Some water lines in downtown are nearly 105 years old; water valves in some blocks have been there since 1911. In the storm water system, many corrugated metal pipes downtown and in Houndslake and Woodside are more than 25 years old, placing them in the “high risk for failure” category. These corrugated pipes are inadequate for conditions in the area and have tended to corrode and fail, said George Grinton, the City’s Engineering & Utilities manager.
In 1992, the City began collecting storm water fees from residents and business owners at an average monthly rate of $2.80. Eleven years later, the fee increased slightly to $3.22. In 2015, it inched up a third time to $5.42.
“Issues in Houndslake and Woodside must be addressed sooner than later,” Klimm said. “Unfortunately, our current revenue stream is not sufficient enough to make those repairs. At some point, we have to face a hard truth. Eventually, we must raise storm water rates to cover costs.”
February 13, 2017 Infrastructure Priority List Presentation
February 13, 2017 First Tryon Financial Analysis Presentation