The Wasatch County Council held a follow-up information meeting tonight at 7:00 p.m. in the Wasatch County Senior Citizens Center. The purpose of the meeting, as outlined in the letter posted in my previous blog, was to inform the Timber Lakes property owners of the construction bids and other cost changes in the proposed water distribution system improvements and to give owners a chance to ask questions.
Council Chairman Steve Farrell reviewed the revised cost estimates for the project, which are outlined in the above referenced letter. The cost was reduced almost $4 million by obtaining hard cost bids on materials and construction. Another $1 million was reduced by opting for a basic telemetry system than can be added to over time rather than purchasing a complete system up front and by having the Water Company crew perform spring development rather than contracting that piece out. Adding a contingency fund for unforeseen problems of $.5 million increased the cost. The construction period interest decreased by approximately $20,000, with the construction likely taking three years to complete rather than two, although that is still an open issue. The net total changes are a reduction of approximately $4.9 million. This is projected to cost each lot $6,400 up front or $44 per month for twenty years.
The Chairman opened the meeting for public questions. The following is my personal recollection of items that were clarified by the Council or the Water Board during the Public Question period. If the Council approves the project tonight, construction will begin within 30 days. It will take 2-3 years to complete the project. Some of the costs are still just estimates but the estimates should not be exceeded. Hard costs on some items cannot be calculated yet as some items still need to be designed. There are still opportunities to further reduce costs and the Council and Water Board are interested in finding all the savings possible. The final amount of the upfront assessment fee and the monthly assessment fee will not be known until construction is complete. Property owners will not have to start paying for the project until construction is complete. This gives owners 2-3 years to come up with the upfront payment or decide to pay it monthly. In addition, at anytime during the twenty-year period, an owner can get a payout amount from the Water Company and pay off the balance without penalty. The interest rate used to calculate the monthly $44 payment amount is 5.5%. The actual numbers will not be known until construction is complete and the bond has been sold. However, the total cost of the project, if approved, cannot exceed the $9,387,000 estimated. The Water Board has been asked by the Council to come up with a procedure for allowing people to combine contiguous lots for the purpose of eliminating a double water assessment if the owner wishes to bind the property forever that no water hookup can be provided to the additional lot. Concern was expressed for the financial burden this project places on individuals. The Council has pared the costs down and cannot see an alternative that is better than making the proposed improvements. With the exception of one owner stating he considered the whole project to be illegal and that it should be stopped until someone figures out a better way, no one proposed other alternatives. The cost estimates have taken into consideration the impact of combining lots and the potential impact of non-paying lot owners. Jody Defa, of the Water Company was asked to comment on ways that the Water Company’s crew could reduce costs by doing things themselves. Mr. Defa stated that he was always wiling to help property owners in any way possible. He pointed out his crew is limited in how much they can handle. We run the risk of not having water during the winter months and at other times when things are broken or leaking. He expressed the opinion that it would be very difficult if we did not do something to address the problems. Finally, it was noted that the Water Board does have the authority to raise rates if they decided it would be better to have a rate increase during the construction period. This amount would then presumably offset the amount that would have to be bonded at the completion of construction. Council was asked why it was in such a hurry to decide this issue. Chariman Farrell replied that the bid for materials and construction was valid for only 30 days.
The Chairman closed the public question portion of the meeting and the County Council held a discussion about the project, clarifying legal, financial and operational issues. They expressed concern about the financial burden on people but felt it will cost even more if we continue along as we have been doing. No one wants to be addressing this again in five years.
In the end, the Council voted 7-0 to approve the special assessment area to bond the project for an amount not to exceed $9,387,000. They instructed the Water Board to come back within 30 days with a recommended procedure for combining lots.
Bottom line: the water distribution system will be replaced. Construction begins next month. Gary Hume, a member of the TLPOA Board of Directors will attend all Water Board meetings and will be our liaison between the property owners and the Water Company. Your TLPOA Board will continue to look for ways to help cut the cost and work with the Water Board to limit the confusion and disruption to life on the mountain.