If early indications hold true, the St. Clair administration and its employees will continue to work toward cleaning up the city’s act in 2014.
Specifically, that means targeting the wastewater system and its components.
Administrators, department heads and the board of aldermen conducted the first of at least a couple of workshops last week to begin putting together the city’s 2014 budget, which by law must be passed by the end of the year.
The city’s budget year mirrors the calendar year.
The 2 1/2-hour session was highlighted by a lengthy discussion about St. Clair’s wastewater system, which is old and in need of help.
In fact, personnel realize that the system is in such need of repair that monies out of the city’s reserves probably will be needed as work progresses on it in 2014.
At this early stage of the budgeting process, City Administrator Rick Childers produced a preliminary budget as a starting point. It included revenue and expenses for the city’s six main funds — general, water and sewer, parks, street improvement, half-cent sales tax and transportation tax.
The focus during the first workshop was the general, water and sewer and parks funds.
“We’re way, way early in our budgeting process this year,” Childers said during the workshop. “But we need to get a handle on where we want to go this year, so I wanted to get started.”
In December 2012, the aldermen approved this year’s operating budget of $6.449 million. For the fifth straight year, that budget was balanced.
Before the session got under way, Mayor Ron Blum reminded those in attendance that a budget “is a working document.”
“It does change,” he said.
Childers followed that statement by saying, “Hopefully revenue will exceed our projections” and that “we will try to keep our expenses below projections.”
The administration remains in agreement that the city wants to produce and pass a balanced budget again in 2014.
When the discussion turned to the water and sewer budget and the wastewater system, Childers quickly pointed out that projected budget funds “do not do everything that needs to be done in the wastewater system.”
“But, it’s a good start,” he said.
Public Works Director Ed Bliss, who is leaving his city job at the end of this week, said he believes St. Clair’s main priorities with the wastewater system are lift station 4 and the west trunk main line, which is about a mile long and has several areas of exposed pipe along its path.
“It will take at least a few years to fix all this,” Bliss said. “For now, we need to get our heads above water.”
Bliss estimated an overall price tag for needed wastewater improvements to be at least several million dollars, which is money the city does not have available to spend.
“We need to prioritize these projects,” Blum said. “We need to prioritize and figure out a way to pay for them.”
“At some point it (wastewater system) will fail,” he said.
At the same time, he said, “But we don’t want to completely drain our reserves for these projects.”
The city has hired Archer-Elgin Engineering, Surveying and Architecture to assist in analyzing its wastewater system and trying to figure out a plan on how to proceed with improvements.
“They will help us prioritize,” Bliss said. “We still have a lot of unknowns with the system.”
However, Bliss also said that, “the maintenance budget and reserves are not going to be enough to cut it” as far as a complete wastewater fix.
“We’re going to need another funding source,” he said.
One additional funding source could be an increase in water and sewer rates for city residents in 2014. A 3 percent hike was brought up during the meeting. There was no rate increase this year following several years of 2 percent increases.
In the preliminary budget document used for discussion last week, total water and sewer revenue and expenses both were estimated at about $1.86 million.
Revenues included some money being transfered into the fund from reserves. It did not include the proposed rate increase.
Expenditures included some money to upgrade the pump at lift station 4 as well as more “removal of roots and debris in west trunk main.”
The aldermen recently approved spending about $150,000 of unbudgeted money for repairs and/or replacement of clarifiers 1 and 2 at the wastewater plant. Bliss said clarifier 1 has not been working since February and clarifier 2 “is not that far from breaking.”
Work already has started on the clarifiers at the treatment plant on Highway AB at Happy Sac Road.
In addition, about $100,000 in unbudgeted funds was spent earlier this year to haul away excess sludge from lagoons 4 and 5.
Two invoices from a hauling company — dated April 22 and May 13 — totaled $50,530 and $44,323.75, respectively, for 18 sludge hauls in April and early May.
The problem originated from all the rain that fell in the spring, Childers said, adding that the water overflowed the system. As a result, the city had to pump from the two lagoons that overtopped.
Those lagoons are located off of Red Bird Lane in the Clairtown area and in Orchard Park, respectively.
According to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, more than 2 million gallons were spilled from both overflow lagoons. Bliss said the leaking from lagoon 5 was spilling into the city’s creeks.
Some work has been to prevent the overtopping from happening in the future. Archer is looking into that area as well.
The preliminary general fund document shared on Tuesday had an estimated $2.83 million in revenue and $2.32 million in expenditures. The parks department budget estimated revenue was $187,000 while expenses were estimated at $179,500.
The other funds were not discussed.
The next workshop will be at 6 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 9, in city hall.