Newton approves plans to meet water, sewer needs

During the fiscal year that begins July 1 Newton plans to tackle $2.4 million in projects to rehabilitate water and sewer lines.

City leaders say those projects will not only improve decades-old infrastructure that often fails, they will also improve the city's ability to protect citizen property from fires.

Newton will also spend $373,500 on a new records management system for the police department, replacing technology that has no back-up, and if it fails could wipe out all the information the city's law enforcement maintains.

Another $1 million will go toward making sure power generators serving the city's largest industries continue to operate efficiently and comply with new clean air regulations.

The city will invest $2.2 million in vehicles and motorized equipment during the next fiscal year.

Combined, Newton aims to spend more than $8 million in the fiscal year beginning July 1 as part of an effort to tackle what leaders call the city's greatest needs. The spending and projects are all part of a five-year, $32.4 million Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) approved by Newton City Council on Tuesday. The spending plan relies on $30.6 million in borrowing, including $7.64 million in loans during the first year.

Newton Mayor Robert Mullinax said the plan addresses needs the city has faced for years.

"There are things that need to be done, and we continually put them aside," he said. "You cut and paste. You duct tape and bind, and eventually you have got to improve yourself. At some point in time, we have got to deal with it."

Newton Mayor Pro Tem Anne Stedman added that the CIP is a "wonderful" planning tool that aims to meet needs that are "not going to go away." Council member Bill Lutz said the approved CIP allows the city to "operate knowing infrastructure, equipment and vehicles have been updated as they need to be."

"I think the objective from the beginning was to come up with a plan that is fluid to start addressing some capital needs, and I think we met the objective of the intent of trying to get a CIP adopted," said Newton City Manager Todd Clark. "I am appreciative that the Council took the time to go through the process and consider the needs of the city."

The CIP was approved 4-1, with Council member Wayne Dellinger casting the dissenting vote. Council member Robert Abernethy Jr. was not present at Tuesday's meeting.

"I agree that most everything in there needs to be done, but I think it is too aggressive for one year," Dellinger said, adding he wanted to cut $1-$2 million from first-year spending. "Economic times the way they are, if we can hold off ... we can all benefit. Work needs to be done, but it is just too much at one time."

With the CIP approved, Clark said first-year capital spending will be incorporated into the budget planning process for fiscal year 2011-12.

He cautions that City Council can still "do what they want with the budget," but city staff's expectation is that elected officials won't change anything in the first year.

Projects included in future years of the CIP can be debated by elected officials during annual budget planning processes, Clark said.

"One good thing about this plan is you can look at it each year and see what you want to do," he told City Council during a work session Tuesday.

Year 1: Water and sewer lines
Of the roughly $8 million in spending planned for year one of the plan, about 30 percent goes toward rehabilitating water and sewer lines throughout the city, including the Shannonbrook area, and parts of South Brady Street and South College Avenue. Combined, the city plans to initiate 16 water and sewer line rehabilitation projects, as well as spend $35,000 on root control in the first year of the CIP.

For infrastructure systems that experience two or three line breaks a week — up to 10 a week during the winter, according to Public Works and Utilities Director Wilce Martin — city officials say those projects are sorely needed.

"Some of our infrastructure needs to be replaced," Council member Mary Bess Lawing said, adding that repairing broken lines is "putting a band-aid on it until we can go in and fix it permanently."

Water and sewer line rehabilitation is about more than addressing broken lines, the city's manager said. Many of the city's fire hydrants are served by 4-inch water lines, and over time, capacity of those lines is reduced by sediment that accumulates.

"When water lines begin to build up with debris and sediment, the line gets smaller and smaller," said Newton Fire Chief Kevin Yoder. "We have some areas where you may need 1,000 gallons (of water) a minute to put a fire out, and we may only have 2-300 gallons a minute on that line (serving a fire hydrant)."

In those cases, firefighters' ability to extinguish a burning home is restricted, he said.

"Fire protection is one of the predominant reasons that we are looking to replace some of these lines," Clark said, adding N.C. General Statues charge municipalities with preserving "health, safety and welfare of the public."

When a fire hydrant can't provide sufficient water, "it jeopardizes life and property," he said.

"It is not just the water and sewer lines that break," he continued, "but sewer lines are infested with roots and that creates blockages and sewer spills. ... All of that does constitute a concern for the protection of health, safety and welfare of the public."

While many water and sewer line projects are set for the CIP's first year, they won't all be completed in that first year, Clark said. The city must go through the process of completing engineering for projects, pursuing loans and obtaining necessary permits before work can ever begin, he said.

And when work begins, that creates jobs, he said.

"Hopefully, we can get good bids. Hopefully, we will have contractors that will jump on the work, and we can put some people to work real fast," Clark said. "Optimistically, we could get a lot of these jobs done by June of next year. Conservatively it may take two years."

Completing rehabilitation of water lines in the Shannonbrook area, where Martin said 50 percent of line breaks occur, is expected to take up to three years.