By AMANDA KIMBLE
STEPHENVILLE (February 7, 2017) – For some members of Stephenville City Council business related to the much-discussed East Side Sewer Project is a case of “getting the cart before the horse.”
At least two council members say that appears to be the case with three agenda items up for consideration at tonight’s council meeting, which begins at 5:30 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall. The agenda includes an almost 120-page packet of associated information with the Eastside Sewer Project accounting for a good portion of the documentation provided.
More than a year ago the city council contracted engineering firm Schrickel, Rollins and Associates, Inc., for the initial design and development of the proposed project. The majority supported spending more than $700,000 for a report they expected to receive six months later, according to council member Carla Trussell.
“Schrickel and Rollins did not complete the project in a timely manner and their design/development report was completed approximately six months behind schedule and was finally submitted to city staff the first week of January,” Trussell said.
Council member Rhett Harrison voted against the plan design and $700,000 expense.
“I couldn’t justify spending that kind of money when we had not even issued a vote supporting the project,” Harrison said, adding the issue was approved without knowledge of the actual cost of the project or if it was something the council and citizens supported.
Trussell said despite recent calls to city hall, she still doesn’t know the latest cost projection for the project, which has an original estimated cost of $16 million.
“The Schrickel Rollins report has not yet been shared with council,” she said. “So, even though the original cost of the sewer project was estimated to be $16 million, we have not been told what the report estimates the actual project cost to be.”
Harrison once again agreed.
“We have been provided very little information,” Harrison said. “I don’t think anyone is against the project, but the size, scope and price tag raise concerns. Any action at this point is definitely premature.”
The discussion is an important one. From aging, crumbling pipes to others that are too small to handle current capacity, Public Works Director Nick Williams has discussed issues with the system for years.
The project has been discussed in multiple phases, and the total plan is vast. One phase of the project would alleviate capacity problems in the existing system. Another would offer services to future growth by extending the city’s sewer system to almost 20,000 acres of undeveloped land. A third phase would be constructed to benefit expanded development in the area of Clark Field Municipal Airport.
“Council is being asked to authorize easement acquisition for the project, bond counsel for the project, and financial advisory services for the project,” Trussell said. “These additional contracts and expenses were not discussed with council beforehand in committee meetings or in work sessions.”
The council’s Public Works Committee is chaired by Alan Nix and also includes Mark McClinton, Brady Pendleton and Sherry Zachery, and current information on the city website shows the group’s most recent meeting was in November of last year.
At that November committee meeting, council members were provided an update about the still unsatisfied agreement with Schrickel, Rollins and Associates – the one finally received last month.
The committee was also told that an application for funding assistance with Texas Water Development Board would not be approved due to the fact that loan forgiveness funds for 2017 had already been allocated. The funding opportunity could include forgiveness of up to $5 million of the projected cost.
In November, the Public Works Committee was told the reapplication process for 2018 funds, which was later approved by the full council, would continue through March. They were also presented an application timeline that would conclude with funding determination by the state entity in October and November of this year.
“This is by no means a certainty,” Trussell said, adding that voting to spend an additional $300,000 on the project now would add up to at least $1 million in taxpayer funds on a project the council has never voted to approve.
She also believes the multimillion dollar project should be taken before voters.
“It is my belief that a project of this financial magnitude – $16 million or more – should go to the voters as a referendum for their approval or disapproval,” Trussell said. “I have been met with resistance on that idea.”
She also said the issue has the smell of a previous council debacle.
“I see shades of the Proctor Pipeline debacle in this project,” she said. “By the time the people got to vote on the Proctor project, design plans and land acquisition for easement had already occurred. The wheels of motion were already turning and the people’s desire to stop it was ignored. De Javu?”
According to a memo included in tonight’s agenda packet submitted by Public Works Director Nick Williams, project management services procurement for environmental services and easement acquisition includes an estimated cost of $246,000 – one percent of the estimated construction costs and an additional per parcel fee of $2,250.
Separate memos from Finance Director says fees associated with bond counsel services are not expected to exceed $65,000 and financial advisor services have an estimated total fee of up to almost $67,000. Each memo says the estimates are based on $16.5 million in obligations.
When he was contacted for comment, council member Doug Svien said Monday that information was key to his decision about moving forward.
“I am not voting for these items until know more about them,” Svien, said adding he planned to seek details and his questions could be answered prior to – or during – tonight’s meeting.
The council will also hear the annual report and budget for Stephenville Chamber of Commerce, consider a Stephenville Economic Development Authority (SEDA) grant of $25,000 for Equibrand, hear the 2016 Racial Profiling Report from Stephenville Police Department, meet in closed session for discussions on the city administrator position and more.
The complete agenda can be found on the city website.