Wapakoneta city administrators say they would take advantage of zero percent interest loans or direct financial assistance to help with long-term control plans (LTCP) to eliminate raw sewage from entering nearby waterways, if members of Congress can be swayed to help.
Wapakoneta City Council members approved Monday a resolution by a 5-1 vote to endorse a United States Conference of Mayors decree which requests Congress reform the federal Clean Water Act as it relates to long-term control plans (LTCP) for wastewater and stormwater.
“We want Congress to reward those communities who have been doing the right things all along by providing us with zero (percent) interest loans or low interest loans — we are not asking for a handout but for at least low interest loans so we don’t have to go to the open market,” Wapakoneta Mayor Rodney Metz said. “We, being the city of Wapak-oneta, are not seeking any relief from the regulatory side because we realize we have an obligation to keep our waters clean and we have no problem with that.
“If we can eliminate the interest payment, this amount can be eliminated from all of our consumers’ bills and enables them to pay it faster,” the mayor told the Wapakoneta Daily News. “The legislation that council passed said it (LTCP fee) will remain on their bill until it is paid off.”
The mayor explained interest payments can account for as much as one-third the cost of the project. The city of Wapakoneta is in the design stage of a $30 million project to replace a combined sewer line along the south bank of the Auglaize River and to build additional retention ponds at the Wapakoneta Wastewater Treatment Plant.
Metz explained the
$30 million is an engineer’s estimate for the construction of the project and does not include interest on money which may need to be borrowed unless a federal or state grant becomes available to help with the cost. He also noted the cost of the project could be more or less depending on labor and material costs when a contract for the project is awarded.
Metz said the letter from the mayors also demands relaxed standards so municipalities can meet the standards faster and the letter also asks for a longer time period — stretching the length to 50 years from 30 years to comply with water quality standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
The letter comes on the heels of a proposal by Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown to provide billions of dollars for municipal infrastructure projects. A report produced by Brown’s staff included Wapakoneta’s $30 million project, which would eliminate combined sewer overflows. Funding for his proposal would come from eliminating loopholes in the tax code.
Brown’s proposal would make municipalities eligible to apply for project funding through an infrastructure bank, which would be created by the legislation. Eligible products include transit infrastructure, public housing infrastructure, road and bridge infrastructure, water infrastructure, aviation infrastructure, and freight or passenger rail infrastructure.
The infrastructure bank also would provide loans and loan guarantees for large infrastructure projects, much like revolving loan funds which government entities utilize grant to help loan money for improvement projects.
“Depending on how things shake out, we will have to see how his proposal goes since I have not received information that it has reached the Capitol Building for a vote yet,” Metz said. “I have not received any information updating the city on Brown’s proposal.”
Safety-Service Director Bill Rains said Brown’s proposal and the proposal from the national mayor’s association resembles a typical Ohio Public Works proposal, which provides zero interest loans for infrastructure projects.
“If Brown’s bill passes and they want to give us the money, we would take it because it would help with the cost of the project and help us reduce utility users’ bill much faster,” Rains said. “I hate the fact we are penalized because this council started planning for these improvements and started to put some money aside. Under current conditions, if we didn’t do anything and we had no money, we would be eligible for zero percent interest loans, but the EPA would have come in and took over, made the plans for the improvements at our cost and the residents’ sewer rates would be much higher than they are now.”
Wapakoneta 3rd Ward Councilor Bonnie Wurst cast the lone dissenting vote on the resolution. She said it is the city’s responsibility to provide clean water and to eliminate combined sewer overflows in a timely fashion.
She did not agree with the 50-year timetable or relaxing EPA standards.
Councilor-at-large Tom Finkelmeier Jr. tried to clarify the letter’s likely intent.
“I think the mayors are asking for the moon and the stars while realizing they might only get a telescope,” Finkelmeier said. “There are much larger cities than ours who have much larger problems and they are seeking a little relief, but it also helps us here, too.”