The Clinton Herald, Clinton, Iowa

Local News

July 12, 2012

Long-term control plan moves forward

CLINTON — Rather than face possible litigation and six-figure fines, the Clinton City Council’s Committee of the Whole on Tuesday moved an amendment forward  for the $95 to $105 million long-term control plan mandated by the Iowa DNR and EPA. The amendment will still need to move forward to the City Council for final approval.

Jane McAllister, a lawyer with Ahlers and Cooney P.C., the law firm that has assisted the city in its negotiations with the DNR and EPA, presented the amendment to the COW on Tuesday. According to City Attorney Jeff Farwell, the consent order amendment outlines the city’s response to the mandates imposed on the city to fix its combined sewer overflow problems.

“Basically we’re under a court order that says we’re going to come up with a plan as to what we’re going to do to fix the situation,” Farwell said.

The city has 25 years to complete all of the mandated projects, a plan with a lot more flexibility than the original, McAllister said. Under the new consent order, the city will not face additional fines.

“It is a compliment that the DNR has faith that the city is making forward progress,” McAllister said.

The plan began in June and will need to be completed by December 2037.

Council member Paul Gassman, Ward 4, and Council member John Rowland, at-large, raised concerns over the lack of a financial plan the city has to pay for the items outlined in the consent order. The City Council recently raised sewer rates to finance the plan, however, because of the cities inability to turn water off to customers who don’t pay, the city has $3.5 million in unpaid sewer bills.

“I can’t think of a company in the world that would enter into this type of agreement without having financial affairs fairly straight,” Rowland said. “I’m just appalled that we would have the cart ahead of the horse on this issue.”

According to Finance Director Jessica Kinser and City Engineer Jason Craft, the city is currently formulating plans to finance the projects. City Administrator Jeff Horne said the city is approaching the projects in small pieces rather than establishing a rigid 25-year plan for financing.

While the city has some options when projects cannot be completed such as the “Force majeure” clause, which accounts for uncontrollable problems that might arise or an opportunity to speak with the DNR, the consent order makes no concessions for lack of funding.

“The intention of this order is to require the city to meet certain deadlines and to spend very large sums of money,” she said.

While McAllister didn’t want to get into too many details, she speculated that not approving the consent order would result in the Attorney General bringing litigation against the city as well as imposing fines. The city has already been fined $100,000.

Despite the city’s inability to collect some of the money it intends to use to fund the projects, it would still be held financially responsible.

“Cities are viewed as having taxing authority and rate setting authority...and so it is rarely going to be an acceptable defense for a city to do what it required of other cities,” McAllister said.

Rowland also asked if it would be viable to request an extension in order to create a financial plan before approving the consent order amendment.

McAllister said that would also not be a favorable move for the city.

The COW approved forwarding the consent order amendment 6-1 with Rowland voting “no.”

“Taxpayers are going to ask us ‘how are you going to pay for that’ and I can’t tell them...We should have a plan,” Rowland said.

 

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