09/07/07 — Should small towns be in the sewer business at all?

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Should small towns be in the sewer business at all?

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on September 7, 2007 1:55 PM

Multi-million dollar projects to patch sewers in Fremont and Eureka are nearing completion, financed mostly by grant money.

Eureka's project -- which cost about $1.3 million -- got funding from the Clean Water Management Trust Fund and the state's Rural Economic Development Center.

"The Eureka project -- all of that was grant funds," Wooten Co. consultant Gary Hartong said. "Which is very unusual nowadays."

Hartong told Eureka officials at their last meeting that they "were very lucky" to have gotten the grant funding.

Fremont, too, got the majority of its funding from the same agencies, officials there said.

But should small towns -- Eureka's population failed to break 250 in the 2000 Census -- even get themselves into the sewer business?

Eureka Mayor Steven Howell said he thinks the answer might be no.

"These small towns just cannot continue to go the route they're going with this sewer," Howell said. "We have literally flushed our general fund and our sewer fund into the sewer."

As Eureka's system has gotten tighter, the bills have gotten better.

Peaking at over $23,000 one month, Eureka's waste water bill from Fremont in July was closer to $4,000, Howell and Finance Commissioner Myrtie Sauls said.

Mrs. Sauls said that despite the vast improvement, $4,000 is still too much for Eureka to pay and hoped the monthly price tag would continue to fall.

Just as Eureka was trying to get the sewer repair project started last summer, heavy rains pushed the number of treated gallons sky high, Howell said. At its worst, the town was buying around 550,000 gallon of water per month for residents -- then sending out as much as four million gallons on to Fremont for treatment, the mayor said.

Despite circumstances like these, Hartong and Gantt said municipalities like Eureka and Fremont should not fear installing a good system -- if it makes sense.

"If they've got the residents to handle a sewer system -- the tax base to handle it, install and maintain it, there's no reason they can't have one."

Howell thinks the idea of "handling it" is exactly the problem for Eureka -- the mayor said towns as small as Eureka generally don't have full-time employees. Eureka itself has none, the mayor said.

Gantt, who managed much of the ground work for the project, said no system is ever free from leaks.

"It's always going to be an ongoing battle," he said