We have an opportunity to end the sewer wars in McCall this Tuesday, May 16 by voting Yes on consolidation and Yes on the sewer bond. As our former City Manager, Gene Drabinski said almost three years ago, “We’re going to get out of this business pretty soon because we suck at it” One consolidated agency operating our sewer service for McCall and Payette Lakes Recreation Water and Sewer District is logical and cost effective.
Below is Jacki Aymon, Mayor of McCall, Nick Swanson, McCall City Council Letter to the Editor in the Star News explaining why a vote Yes is the right thing to do.
There is beauty in a single sewer operating agency
First, I would like to thank everyone who took time out their busy schedule to listen and learn about the May 16 ballot questions on annexation of the McCall City sewer system into the Payette Lakes Recreation Water and Sewer District and the $22 million bond to fund DEQ required upgrades for a reuse permit, wastewater treatment facility infrastructure repairs and retirement of the city’s existing 2004 and 2008 bonds. This is a complicated issue with multiple moving parts and requires a lot of information and thought.
So how did we get here? As many of you know the history between the two agencies has been at times cordial, rocky, smooth, contentious, friendly, feisty and costly. The final lawsuit between the city and the PLRWSD was settled in 2011.
On then-City Manager Gene Drabinski’s first day, he asked Council members to write down three goals. One of my three was “solve the sewer wars.” Anyone who knew Gene understood he did not let grass grow under his feet and he got right to it. Knowing we were coming up against a DEQ deadline to continue to land apply our treated wastewater he brought the two governing boards together, organized a committee to chart a course, and after three years of collaboration here we are.
This is a big deal and is incumbent on all of us to participate in this election and answer the questions for you, your family and the future. A “Yes” vote on both questions will result in one agency, PLRWSD, to collect, treat and dispose of wastewater and to bond for required and needed system upgrades. A “No” vote on either or both questions sends the team back to the legal department to craft a joint powers agreement and another trip to the ballot box for funding.
There are potential risks and/or impacts in either scenario. This is where history is important. We know the history of cooperative agreements between the city and PLRWSD were not always so cooperative and they were sometimes expensive. In my mind, a single agency is less likely to go to court with itself.
Secondly, DEQ may only issue one permit to the system owner who has system control. There are also land planning components to consider. Cities use sewer infrastructure as a tool to encourage annexation and control growth.
I am not a planner but during the process of crafting the annexation agreement, new tools were created to foster communication and cooperation in land use planning in an attempt to mitigate these issues.
Let’s not forget PLRWSD is a taxing district and thus property taxes would apply to those within the district. Keep in mind, unlike other taxing districts, most of the revenue comes in the form of user fees and property taxes play a minor role funding.
Finally, the city sewer infrastructure is managed by the city but is actually owned by the users, those who pay the sewer bills. The infrastructure in a consolidated entity will follow the rate payers.
This was a long walk and now it is a dash. Initially I was skeptical. However, after wrestling with all of the components, obstacles, funding mechanisms, permit requirements, ballot questions, infrastructure needs, director zones, staffing, and more, I began to see the beauty in a single agency that only collects, treats and disposes of wastewater.
What sealed the deal was the willingness of the PLRWSD to share the 2004 and 2008 City bond debt. This step was a huge leap of faith and would reduce our sewer bills in the consolidated model.
Think about it. Ask questions and vote!
Jackie J. Aymon, Mayor, City of McCall
Sewer consolidation critical for future of McCall area
BY NIC SWANSON
On May 16, voters should allow the Payette Lakes Recreational Water and Sewer District to annex the city to maximize cost reduction, planning, permitting, and efficiency within the sewer world we live in.
In my mind, this has never been a “who should annex who” type of scenario, rather, which model is the most palatable to all patrons within the two currently separate sewer systems and who can get the improvements, permits, and all other work done by the deadlines set by various other parties that make our sewer system function.
The sewer district being the entity to annex proved to be the most expedient option, as they hold the permit with the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality for reuse of the treated wastewater, letters of intent with the landowners who are receiving the water, and are fully capable of operating a sewer system.
The city annexing the sewer district could be a good thing for the city in the long run, but expecting district patrons outside the city limits to be annexed into the city is a political non-starter. Expecting a majority of the district to be included into the city limits, all services and taxes included, would be an exercise in futility.
Two entities have created problems in the past, as many of us are aware. The permitting, operations, and maintenance, needs to be under one entity as required by Idaho DEQ. Further, one entity has been proven, through the rate models we have been working with, to be the most cost effective for all patrons, regardless of where they live.
The distribution of the 2008 Wausau debt across all customers has proven to be the tipping point in the favor of consolidation. The sewer board agreeing to this request from the city is more proof of a positive long-term partnership, and the dedication to be fair to all patrons they may serve.
The cost will be more to current city sewer patrons if the annexation takes place. Is it worth it? Cost goes up for everyone regardless of where they live.
Consolidation rate models, including all other hits to the patrons’ pocketbook, has still penciled out to be the most cost effective solution we have discussed to this point, and we have to have a solution.
It is not a perfect proposal, but it possesses all the components our community needs to keep moving forward given the deadlines we face, at the lowest possible rate. I think it is important to remember a few key points, outside of how much it costs, and how ugly the past has been.
First are trustee-zone style elections to the sewer board. This is my favorite part of this entire agreement, because it requires diversity based on location on the sewer board. The issues of “in the city” versus “in the district” evaporate once the new board is in place. The future board is postured to be representative of all patrons based on the neighborhood they are from, or own property within.
Second, the language of the annexation agreement puts the city into a stronger position in controlling development outside of its boundaries than it has been since the sewer district was formed. If annexation is approved, it actually provides protection to “leap-frog” development situations from occurring without joining the city.
Finally, passage of the ballot measures effectively ends the “sewer wars” as coined by our late friend and former city manger Gene Drabinski. It provides an equitable rate to all patrons and a single agency that is responsible for all infrastructure, permits, and capacity and will be best for growth, the environment, the farmers, and the patrons, and the future of our community.
I urge you to vote in favor of the sewer consolidation and the sewer bond on May 16.
(Nic Swanson is a member of the McCall City Council and chair of the Joint Wastewater Advisory Group.)
Support Valley County Pathway Plan- Email the Commissioners Now
The Pathway Plan goes up for adoption by Valley County Commissioners Monday.
There was some large landowners who went to the last meeting and overpowered the Pathways support with fears of land takeovers and “not in my back yard” mind sets.
We need Valley County to adopt the Pathway Plan and to encourage creation of these corridors (not specific parcels) for a coordinated Pathway throughout our area.
1. PLEASE email the commissioners in support of this plan. Just email anything in support of the plan.
Email all three commissioners at: firstname.lastname@example.org
2. If your able, please attend the 1pm meeting on Monday May 15 at the Courthouse in Cascade.
3. Please let me know if you email the Commissioners. That way I know when to stop harassing people. 😉
You can do a quick review of the Plan here: (see Executive Summary)
• Tell the commissioners that you support the development of tourism and recreation in the valley, this is our economic future.
• It’s important to approve the updated Master Plan for Valley County Pathways. The new plan is in sync with community pathway plans created by McCall, Donnelly and Cascade.
• Valley County Pathways has been respectful of private property rights since the very beginning, and this plan has no language to suggest any infringement on propriety owners rights.
• Pathways are good for safety, health and fitness, quality of life and property values.
• Support the notion of developing pathway corridors that connect our communities and link to our mountain trails, lakes, rivers and waterways
• Support the notion that new developments provide pathways or pathway easements to connect to regional pathway corridors