Council says water decision imminent
The De Soto City Council members indicated last week they are close to a decision on the city’s water utility future even as the late possibility of federal money offered to change cost estimates.
The council’s discussion last Thursday extended to the audience, which included four candidates for council and Randy Johnson, who is challenging incumbent Dave Anderson for mayor.
Since last summer, the council has had a series of workshops and discussions on the city’s future water source.
It was time for the council to make a decision, Johnson said. And it appears the majority of the council agreed.
Being considered are two options: A partnership with Johnson Country Rural Water District No. 1 to supply water purchased form Olathe at a cost to the city of $3.98 million or the renovation of the water treatment plant on Sunflower for $6 million.
The Kansas Department of Health and Environment’s invitation to apply for grants or no-interest loans anticipated to become available through a stimulus package now being considered in Congress offered a late game-changing opportunity for the city.
The city could go ahead with either project without a rate increase to city water users should the full price of either improvement be paid for with a grant, City Administrator Pat Guilfoyle wrote in a report to the council. Moreover the city administrator estimated that with an interest-free loan, the city could reduce the estimated percentage rate increase for the refurbished plant from 31 percent to 25.5 percent and from 18 percent to 5.6 percent for the wholesale arrangement.
Mayor Dave Anderson told the council he and city staff met with Sen. Pat Roberts’ aide Chad Tenpenny about the city’s water options and Rep. Dennis Moore’s office had sent near daily emails to the city regarding the status and details of the stimulus package.
Guilfoyle, who was on vacation last week, recommended in his report that the council approve applying for two grants so that each project would be in the pipeland when the council made its final decision.
Elaborating on Guilfoyle’s recommendation, Anderson said application could be made for both grants and the council seated after April’s election could make the final decision.
Council members, however, said the current council should make the decision, perhaps as early as the Feb. 19 meeting meeting.
Councilwoman Mitra Templin asked city engineer Mike Brungardt the status of reports the council requested to make the decision. The reports were to get answers from Olathe officials on: Helping assure De Soto kept its water rights, working with De Soto to provide water to a potential economic development opportunity and Olathe’s wholesale customer rate structure. Additionally, city staff was to report the consequences on water rates of using interest from the city’s electrical utility fund to help finance the Sunflower plant improvements.
Brungardt said Olathe had just approved a new rate schedule and the reports would be ready for the Feb. 20 meeting.
Templin, Councilmen Tim Maniez and Ted Morse agreed with that the current council should be able to make a decision.
For his part, Maniez said he thought the council was moving toward an upgrade the Sunflower plant and found the continued consideration of the wholesale agreement distracting.
Still, the council voted 5-0 to make application for two grant applications. It was a move that disappointed two of the council candidates in attendance, Bob Garrett and Ron McDaniel.
“This is the reason I’m running for the council,” McDaniel said. “If we get rid of the (Sunflower) water plant, we’ll regret it.”
Council members defended their long deliberations of what they said was a complicated and important issue. Templin said she had never given any indication of which of the two options she favored because she didn’t feel she had enough information. That should change with the reports promised for the next meeting, she said.
In response to a question from candidates supporting the Sunflower option, Anderson said he favored the water purchase agreement because he feared upgrading the Sunflower plant would raise water rates so high De Soto would never attract new industry.
But Anderson said all options had to be explored and that is why he invited to engineers from Larkin to give a presentation to the council on the possibility of a regional cooperative that jointly own the Sunflower water plant.
He had recent conversations with Mark Crumbaker of Johnson County Rural Water District No. 6 and Sunflower Redevelopment L.L.C. executive director Kise Randall and both were open to discussing a regional water cooperative, Anderson said.