Thursday, October 5, 2023–1:25 p.m.
-David Crowder, WRGA News-
If the City of Rome were to extend sewer service to Chulio Hills, the payback would take 160 years — according to an analysis prepared by staff for the Rome Water and Sewer Committee.
Water and Sewer Division Director Mike Hackett went over the numbers in the analysis on Thursday.
The extension would tie into the existing sewer at Highway 411 at Mathis Road and the project would include around two miles of 8-inch gravity line, 50 manholes, and 5,000 feet of service laterals. It would serve 65 lots including Shady Lane but excluding the new Jewel Point development. 29 accounts are in the city and 11 are in the county. The project would take about a year and a half to complete.
“When we had this estimated by InSite Engineering some time back, the estimate came in at $3.2 million,” Hackett said. “This was before we received numbers for the Burwell Creek sewer project, which was estimated to be about $3.5 million and the engineer said anything over $6 million is unacceptable. Then the project prices came in at $12 million and $13 million. So, based on what we saw there, initially at it in terms of $6 million for this [Chulio Hills] project instead of $3.2 million.”
For the purpose of the analysis, Hackett went with a more aggressive number of $5 million, which still means a cost-per-account of $125,000, not including tap fees and private plumbing, which could be upwards of $8,000 per account. The 160-year payback time is based on an average bill of $65 a month for each customer with 100 percent participation from all 40 accounts and all of the revenue is fully applied to the replacement cost of the project. According to Hackett, the return on investment, in his mind, is a negative number, based on the payback time being more than twice the manufacturer replacement cost.
“In other words, you’d have to replace it twice before you ever paid it off the first time,” he said.
Hackett noted that since 2003, any community or developer requesting sewer by the city has been categorically denied. It is a concern that if the city makes an exception for Chulio Hills, developers who have been denied in the past could take legal action against the city.
Hackett added, that as far as city staff knows and understands, in approximately 1984, city representatives, including newly appointed City Manager John Bennett, met with the Chulio Hills community to discuss improvements needed for road and water, and to provide sewer. The community asserts that an agreement was made whereby the residents would annex into the city and the city would make the improvements requested, but sewer was not available, and the issue was discussed. It is asserted by members of the community that Bennett stated that as the Highway 411 corridor developed and sewer became available in the area, it could be extended to serve Chulio Hills. Bennett contends that sewer was discussed but no promise was made that it would be extended.
City Commissioner Craig McDaniel, who serves on the water and sewer committee said he has spoken with Bennett, who stressed he never promised sewer to Chulio Hills.
“This has become a heated issue and it never should have,” McDaniel said. “I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s more of a political issue than a practical issue.”
There is also a question regarding the legality of past city managers or commissioners binding current and future commissioners to written or verbal agreements and commitments.
If the project does move forward, the recommendation from staff is that there be a commission-approved written contract and the city place funds in escrow to complete the project. All 40 community accounts would annex into the city and place $8,000 in escrow for turn-key connections to be implemented after construction. No single-party buyouts should be allowed and the project would not begin until the full community commitment is made to escrow.