02/07/08 — City Council discusses water, money

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City Council discusses water, money

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on February 7, 2008 1:49 PM

NEW BERN -- During the first day of the Goldsboro City Council's three-day retreat on Wednesday, the main discussion was about budget requests for this upcoming fiscal year in June. But talk soon turned to one of the most pressing issues in the state -- water.

Council members considered ways to increase the quantity and improve the quality of water, not only for the immediate future but for years to come.

At present, the city Public Utilities Department is looking at a utilities master plan that is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

The plan would allow the department and the council to determine how well the city's current water facilities are operating as well as the feasibility and cost of improving them for the long haul.

Specifically, the plan looks at expected growth, water supply alternatives, water treatment, water distribution, the city's water collection system, its wastewater treatment discharge alternatives and a capital improvement plan. Among the ideas proposed was the construction of a reservoir.

Public Utilities Director Karen Brashear was asked about previous discussions of a reservoir that could help during times of drought.

"We are going to fast track that section of the plan because of that interest," Brashear told the council.

Other long-term water supply alternatives that the council discussed included river bank infiltration, aquifer storage and recovery, groundwater wells, purification of wetlands water and interconnection of water lines with neighboring communities.

As for planning for the current drought, the council discussed what has already been done.

Mrs. Brashear said crews have temporarily repaired a broken U.S. Army Corps of Engineers flood control structure that was allowing millions of gallons of water to bypass the city's intake system and have dredged the river at the intake structure in July and October. The city has a permit to do emergency pumping at the intake if necessary and has seven new interconnections with surrounding groundwater systems.

She also suggested that the city look into upgrading its water plant and add nanofiltration membranes to help with further purification of the water.

Council members looked over the rates the city now charges for water and compared them to rates charged in nearby water districts and found that they are lower than those of Fremont, the Wayne Water Districts, Fork Township and Walnut Creek. A rate increase could help with revenues that could, in turn, be used for water facility upgrades and projects, Mrs. Brashear said. Council members listened but did not discuss the rates.

Although water quantity has been a problem, Mrs. Brashear said, the city is well off with its wastewater treatment facilities, including having the capacity for more than city residents normally use.

Despite the focus on water, the day's business started with talk of money.

Council members went over a proposed 10-year financial plan that would begin with this year's budget process and the requests already made by different departments and agencies for funding for the 2008-09 fiscal year.

The Downtown Goldsboro Development Corp. requested two items, including $150,000 for the renovation of Union Station and $100,000 for the acquisition of parts of South Center Street and median construction on that street.

The Information Technology department has suggested the purchase of laptop computers for the mayor and council members to be used for council agendas. The item, which would cost $13,000, would save paper used for the current agendas, time the city clerks spend putting the packets together and wear and tear on copiers, department officials noted. Council members asked City Clerk Melissa Brewer to look into the proposal.

The department also asked for $50,000 to spend on disaster recovery planning that would allow information to be "almost instantly" moved over to a backup source if a disaster were to happen, said department Director Debbie Whetsell. That way, the revenue department could move and continue collecting money, she said, with any "hiccups."

Currently, the city backs up the information every night on its computers and then takes the tapes with the information on them to the bank at the end of the week.

"Would we hiccup now?" Council Member Chuck Allen asked?

"Today, we would hiccup badly," Ms. Whetsell replied.

Council members agreed that it would be a good idea to have such a backup in place.

"The city is a big business, and big businesses have this, and we need to do this," Allen noted.

The Information Technology Department also asked for software upgrades and wireless connections downtown, bringing its to a request to $250,000.

Also, City Fire Chief Alvin Ward requested the city consider spending $242,864 for a quick response vehicle that would reduce wear and tear on the city's large fire trucks. The cost would include new staffi and equipment. Ward also asked for new radios and software.

Police Chief Tim Bell spoke with the council about adding an investigator to the department for $46,366 as well as paving the Police Department parking areas for $20,000.

Bell said the department is also having problems with recruiting and retaining police officers and may look into allowing uncertified personnel to work in expectation that they will pass the certification test in the near future.

Parks and Recreation Director Sonya Shaw said her department needs money to complete several projects, including a comprehensive master plan needed for approval of the Parks and Recreation Trust Fund grant, renovations to the restrooms at the W.A. Foster Center, various renovations at the Herman Park Center, work on Stoney Creek Park and Paramount Theatre payments -- all totaling $1,292,496.

Officials with the Public Works Department asked for items that would help them work more efficiently, including a new vehicle for the assistant director position, if there should be one, and a video security system to help stop the theft of equipment and radios.

Public Works Director Neil Bartlett also asked to pave sections of Willow Dale Cemetery, which would cost $11,400, and new machinery.

The Human Resources Department only asked for one new item -- $10,000 for consulting fees to ensure the safety of staff as related to regulations, standards and workers' compensation.

The Planning and Community Development departments would like to see better software in their budget as well as more than $373,000 for a payment on street bonds for a signalization project. Engineering asked for $135,000 to improve areas of the city that have drainage problems.

Council members discussed possible ways to increase the city's general fund in order to pay for some of the budget items requested, including increases in user fees, property taxes, grants, cutting back on some services and entering into partnerships with private companies, the county and the region.

The retreat was to continue today and end on Friday.