Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Iron Under Ground

Don’t be surprised if your street gets torn up next year.

Tuesday night, the Pottstown Borough Authority approved plans to conduct $2.9 million worth of sewer line replacements in 2014.

The decision comes on top of a previously approved plan to conduct $2.4 million in water line replacements in 2014 as well.

“We have to get on top of replacing our underground infrastructure,” said Authority Vice Chairman David Renn.  “If we let things go on as they are unchanged, eventually the whole system would collapse.”

Public Works Director Doug Yerger noted that “we are using pipes that were put in place in the early 1900s. There were pipes here before there were treatment plants.”

Chairman Tom Carroll said the authority is trying to hold off on incurring more debt and pay for repairs, upgrades and maintenance without borrowing.

“This is my sixth year on the authority and when I started, we were doing a lot of borrowing and people were saying money way cheap,” Carroll said. “But I kept looking at the interest we were paying and thinking money may be cheap, but not as cheap as not borrowing at all.”

Renn pointed out that 40 percent of the authority’s sewer budget goes toward bond payments.
“When 40 percent of your budget is debt, that’s terrible,” Renn said.

The authority pays $3 million a year toward re-paying bonds, an obligation that will continue until 2023, said Finance Director Janice Lee.

Instead, said Carroll, it is better for the authority to move ahead with needed replacement and pay for them as they go. That may require rate increases.

The finance office anticipates the sewer fund will end the year with $6 million in cash. However, by the time the five-year capital plan is completed, that cash will have dwindled to $2.3 million in the sewer fund, Carroll said.

Overall, that capital plan calls for 28 pipe replacement projects.

Tom Weld from BCM Engineering told the authority board that planning for the specific water and sewer projects for 2013 would be completed by January and would take 12 to 15 months to complete.

Bids would go out in the winter, so contractors looking to plan for spring work would likely give a better price, Weld said.

When possible, projects would be arranged to water and sewer pipe replacements can occur on the same street to avoid having to re-pave a street twice, he said.

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