City seeks voter approval for $38.9 million water bond

Tuesday, August 19, 2008 | 7:09 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Columbia's water will flow faster and stronger after utility renovations that would be funded by a $38.9 million bond issue on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The City Council decided unanimously Monday night to put the bond issue to a public vote. If approved, rates would increase incrementally - two annual increases of 1.5 percent followed by four increases of 5 percent - for a total of 23 percent after six years in order to support the bonds. At the end of the increases, it means the average residential customer would pay $5.30 more per month for water.

City Manager Bill Watkins said during the council meeting that the renovations would focus primarily on fire flows in existing areas and improvements in water distribution. A higher flow rate would allow the system to meet reliability requirements and provide increased fire safety for schools that are farther from the water source.

Mayor Darwin Hindman said the projects would bring "numerous advantages" to taxpayers.

Water and Light Director J. Kraig Kahler cited the different projects the renovations would cover, including six schools — Jefferson Junior High, West Junior High and West Boulevard, Field, New Haven and Ridgeway elementary schools. Those schools currently meet residential fire flows, but the bond issue projects would bring them up to commercial standards.

Watkins defended the revenue bonds as superior to a flat rate increase.

"It has been a policy of the city to fund a part of these costs with bonds in order to avoid higher interest rates," Watkins said.

The utility improvements also could help address the presence of carcinogenic trihalomethanes in the city's water supply. MU researchers have said a continuous flow rate could decrease the potency of the contaminant.

Trihalomethanes, which form as a result of chlorine breaking down, are less likely to be found in continuously moving water. A more efficient water system would allow for the loops to be closed and for the water to keep moving. Several of the projects in the proposed plan would focus on closing these loops.

The most recent bonds were approved in 2003, and the city traditionally has asked for new bond issues every five years. The renovations from 2003 primarily dealt with water treatment and were largely successful, Water and Light spokeswoman Connie Kacprowicz said. The last of those projects, which is the installation of the Hillsdale pump station, is nearly finished.


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