Archive for Thursday, March 29, 2007

City’s role in sewer expansion considered

March 29, 2007

With the new wastewater plant about to come on line, De Soto City Councilman Ted Morse late last year proposed the city take an active role in the community's development by extending a sewer line to the west to encourage growth.

The move, Morse said, would stimulate residential and commercial growth in De Soto. The new development would pay for the extension and the $9 million new sewer plant now operating in the West Bottoms, he said. Conceding it was a bold idea, Morse said the city should extend a line to the area near Edgerton Road and Kansas Highway 10, which has been identified as the future growth area.

More new homes are needed in De Soto if the debt retirement plan the council approved in 2004 is to work. That plan counts greatly on growth and system development fees charged for new connections to pay for the sewer plant. The plan figured 43 homes a year early in its 30-year debt retirement schedule and 72 in years to come.

With the new sewer plant now operating, one candidate for city council is voicing support for Morse's proposal. Candidate Mike Drennon said the council's current policy of waiting for developer or developers to extend the lines might be successful. But if it doesn't, existing sewer customers would have to pay higher user fees to pay for the sewer, he said.

The city needed to find a way to extend lines to encourage development and recover the cost through tap fees, Drennon said.

Incumbent Betty Cannon said she, too, would consider such extensions.

"Hopefully, we'll have enough developers band together to form a benefit district to extend the sewer," she said. "But I feel like we might have to consider that to get development going."

Cannon said the city shouldn't take the step without commitments on the part of developers that would start building.

Incumbent Mitra Templin said she would support one of the projects city staff proposed for the sewer department's five-year capital improvement project list but said it would be too expensive for the city to extend a sewer line to Edgerton Road.

The project she supported was a $700,000 extension of sewer lines to Kansas Highway 10 and Lexington Avenue and 95th Street, she said.

"I think we can use that as a starting point," she said. "I think it will be a commercial stimulus and bring us much closer to land we do have for development."

De Soto's success in reaching the needed housing starts would depend on developers, Templin said.

"I think De Soto is unique," she said. "People don't move out here to find what they can have in Shawnee or Overland Park. If developers build more neighborhoods like Timber Trails, they will be successful."

Candidate Kirk Johnson said he was concerned about De Soto meeting the housing start targets established in the sewer debt retirement plan.

"Until or unless something happens, we're going to have to make something happen," he said.

That didn't mean speculating on an expensive sewer main in the hopes of encouraging development, Johnson said.

"At this point in time (with) housing starts tanking, I'm a firm believer in bad news builds bad news -- it's a self-fulfilling prophecy in a way," he said. "I'd be very, very careful or have a huge commitment before we do that. If we get a commitment, I say lets go for it."

There were much less costly steps the city could take to improve home sales, Johnson said. One of those would be to improve signage so visitors and potential new homebuyers could find their way around the city and to housing developments, he said.

As vice president of the De Soto Economic Development Council, he had been working on a committee with city staff and chamber representatives to review the city requirements for informational and directional signs.

Candidate Robert Freeman said he would not support extending a sewer line with only the expectation of future hookups.

"My concern is the same as doing a general obligation bond funded by future increases in the tax base," he said. "If it doesn't come to fruition, you're forced to retire the debt with existing taxpayers."

He would want to see security money put aside by a developer or the start of streets and other infrastructure before extending a sewer line as far as Edgerton Road, Freeman said.

"It's a whole lot easier to break a verbal agreement than move away once infrastructure is already in place," he said.

Last year, the council had extended discussions about finding a solution to its future water needs. Options explored included refurbishing the existing Sunflower water plant, building a new plant or purchasing water from Johnson County Water One or Olathe.

His biggest concern, Freeman said, was maintaining the water rights the city got with the Sunflower well field.

The city Sunflower water plant was well positioned to serve future customers when the closed ammunition plant developed, Freeman said.

The city has sunk a good deal of money in the Sunflower water plant, Freeman said.

"I would hate to see it go to waste," he said. "I would probably be more inclined to support refurbishing Sunflower, (then) get water from somewhere else and third would be to build a new plant. Again, the biggest issue is water rights to me."

Candidate Ron Crow said he, too, wanted the city to retain its water rights. Should the city enter into an agreement with a large water producer, the contract could allow for the diversion of raw water from De Soto wells, he said.

Crow said his other concern was to assure jobs were found for current water department employees should the city buy water from another producer.

Cannon and Templin said the water discussions were suspended with the understanding staff would provide more information on the cost of the three options and possible future water customers for city produced water.

Templin said she would wait for that information before making any decision.

That information would guide her decision as well, Cannon said. But she said she leaned toward the city maintaining its wells and a plant.

"I'd like to look at all the options, instead of just saying, 'Oh, we're going to start buying our water,'" she said. "It's a big resource for us."

In his campaign, Johnson has said the city should concentrate on its key services. Water production was expensive, and De Soto would be at a competitive disadvantage to a utility like Water One that makes and distributes it on a huge scale, he said.

"What I think -- you know you can make money putting in sewers, but you can't make money making water," he said.

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