City debates hiring engineer for streets

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

3 plans being considered by the Cassville Council

The city of Cassville has about $190,900 in its transportation tax account, and debate about how to approach street repairs in the city are underway, with City Council members proposing three schools of thought.

Mayor Bill Shiveley suggested the city take a portion of the money, garnered from a . 325-percent tax passed by voters in April 2014, to hire an engineer to do a study of the streets and define projects and a scope of work.

Alderman Jon Horner expanded on the idea, saying he'd like the city to hire an engineer, come up with a 5-year plan, then bring a bond proposal to residents that would allow the city to sell bonds, do multiple projects at once, and use the transportation tax revenues to pay off the bonds over a five-year period while the next five-year plan is formulated.

Alderman Terry Heinz took a different approach, as he said hiring an engineer would be a waste of taxpayer dollars, and the Cassville Public Works Department knows the streets well enough to know what work needs to be done. He advocated for doing projects piece by piece as the tax money comes in, relying on the city employees and the contractor to do it correctly.

The third option, being proposed by Alderman Jerry Marple, is a hybrid of the first two plans. He said the city should immediately fix streets that need the most attention, and while that work is being done, complete an engineering study and formulate a five-year plan.

Alderwoman Cindy Carr agrees, saying she thinks it would be best to hire an engineer, but only if the cost is within reason, and some streets could use work immediately.

Shiveley and Horner said the idea behind doing a study and a five-year plan is two-fold, as it would ensure engineering of streets, cubs and drains would be done properly and not at the liability of the city, and it would allow the city to do multiple projects at once, rather than piece by piece over time.

"Instead of doing just a little bit every year, you can do a bigger portion of the work all at once," Shiveley said. "We also need to tie those projects into water and sewer because of our inflow and infiltration (INI) at the wastewater plant. We don't want to pick a street with the worst INI, pave it, then have to come back and tear it up for a water or sewer line."

Heinz said when the transportation tax was being discussed prior to the election, he promised voters good streets, and he wants to use as much of the tax money as possible directly on the streets.

"I don't think it's a good idea to hire an engineering firm because it's very expensive," he said. "I think a five-year plan is ridiculous, because it will look good the first year, but then it won't be followed after that. And, all the information an engineering firm would have to get would be from Steve [Walensky, public works director].

"They will put what he already has in a nice binder and charge several thousand dollars for it. I don't want to see piddled away any of the tax money the people were so gracious to give us on unnecessary expenses."

Heinz said he believes the city can do the planning in-house, as he said Walensky knows which streets are in need of repair and where the water and sewer lines are, and Hutchens Construction is no stranger to building streets.

"I appreciate the vote of confidence Terry has in my skillset, but I am not an engineer," Walensky said. "We really need to have an engineer take a look at the conditions to see what is required. I think that would be more prudent.

"I trust Hutchens Construction and they do 99 percent of our work, but we will also still have to bid the projects out. There are certain section of streets that need widening, curb and guttering and have storm water issues. The hybrid plan is more what I'd like to see accomplished. We have to use the money wisely, and we have to have the right expertise to accomplish that task."

Horner said he prefers the engineering study and five-year plan because he wants to make sure the work is done as effectively as possible, taking things like curbs, guttering and storm water runoff into account.

"We have been trusted with a lot of money, and I want to be effective in how it's used," he said. "I probably complain more about the streets in Cassville in the past 20 years than anyone else. I just know when you do a street or a parking lot, if you don't do it properly, you're essentially throwing that money away because it will deteriorate and fail.

"I think it's a knee-jerk plan to just chip and seal to get things done, and it's not a good use of taxpayer dollars because it could fail in two or three years."

An example of such a failure Horner provided was a parking lot project at Cassville schools, where he is a member of the board.

"Years ago, we had a parking lot paved at the school, and it was not engineered properly, so a lot of problems were created from that," he said. "We had to redo the parking lot and put in some drainage, and when we did do it right, it held up like it should. That's a classic example where things can go wrong if you don't do it right in the first place."

Horner said he hopes to get the engineering study completed, then propose a bond initiative, which would allow the city complete many projects at once and pay for them it over time.

"Interest rates are as cheap as they are ever going to be," he said. "Municipal government could probably get a rate below 3 percent. If we do five years worth of projects now, we also save money by only paying that cost one time, because the cost of projects will go up each year is you piecemeal it.

"We can do projects at just the 2016 costs versus inflation over a 5-year time period. The natural rate of inflation is an increased cost and would outweigh interest costs because interest is so low."

Shiveley said the city would also likely save money doing multiple projects at once, as a contractor is likely to give a cheaper rate for a larger project, only mobilizing resources once instead of multiple times over a longer period.

Heinz said he sees any interest costs as an increased and unnecessary expense.

"It's a double-edged sword, because you're spending money for things other than directly on the streets."

Heinz said he also does not think his proposal would see work done any slower than if the city did multiple projects at once.

"People may think it's slow, but if we do a few miles of streets in a year then have to stop because the money coming in has to go to pay loans, that will take time," he said. "If we can do in-house work for $250,000 a year, we can be doing work each year. We have 72 miles of streets in Cassville, and we are not going to do them all in one, two or even five years.

"Not all of them need to be done, like my street, Glenwood Circle, does not need to be done. But, we don't need to do all or half of the streets in town. It's not practical."

Heinz said he also does not believe curbing and guttering will be an issue.

"I see very little curb and gutter work that's needed," he said. "I'm not in favor of adding any unless it's really needed."

Marple said some streets have immediate needs, like 11th Street, 13th Street, portions of Fox Ridge and Gravel Street behind Mercy Hospital.

"We have some immediate needs on the streets that should to be addressed in the near future, but in the long run, we need a comprehensive study and engineering," he said. "But, there's some streets that can't wait two years. Some streets need work before winter of this year, and we can chip and seal some of those streets now."

Carr said she would hate to see the city spend a lot of money on an engineer, but she would also hate to spend a lot of money fixing a street and it not be done right.

"If we don't fix them properly, that could leave us liable," she said. "But, I also don't want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on someone to tell us what we should do. If an engineer will help us, and it's not crazy expensive, that's probably the way to go."

Shiveley said even if the city does a chip and seal overlay on some streets, that may not fix some bumps or chips in the streets.

"I'm sure Hutchens or any other contractor would know what to do, but is it a good idea to let a contractor set your specs?" he said. "If getting an engineer is, say, $200,000, I don't think we need to do it."

The city has not settled on any approach yet, but it has sent out requests for qualifications to engineers to see what a study would cost.

The transportation tax, which was passed in April 2014, began being collected in October 2014 and brings in an average of about $27,000 per month.

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