Witt Council Discusses Water Problem

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The Witt City Council convened for their meeting on Tuesday, March 26, 2019.  Key discussion in the meeting revolved around the city water department.

As part of the departmental reports, the council learned from water department personnel that an inspection performed by Grosch determined city well  #1 was 95 percent plugged and well #2 was 92 percent plugged with iron bacteria believed to be the problem.  They will begin work tomorrow on resolving the problem at an approximate cost of $20,000.  For an additional $1,500 they will provide the city with a recording of the process.  

The council agreed this could be helpful in future preventive maintenance for the wells.  Additional discussion included a debate on the last time major work had been performed on the wells during two previous situations in 2003 and 2011.  With output down, the city is not able to sell water to Montgomery County Rural Water Company, which is the main way the city can generate revenue to maintain the plant.  Visitor Tom Rogers questioned why output had been allowed to drop this far prior to action.

Subsequently, the council was addressed by Benjamin Spreen of Benton and Associates, an engineering firm contracted by the city.  Spreen presented the council with the preliminary engineering report that they had developed over the last two years regarding the city's water system and conferring with the USDA on possible plans going forward.  The report encompasses a study of the whole water system including the supply wells, the treatment plant and distribution and storage of the water.  The larger issues facing the city at this time are the wells and treatment.

Spreen said the main two options the firm was presenting in the engineering report were construction of a new treatment plant and two new wells or rehabilitation of the existing plant and the addition of one new well.  The council had previously directed Benton to focus on the second option of rehabilitating the existing plant.  In working with the Illinois State Water Survey, they had determined the optimal location for the new well was away from the location of the current wells so they did not influence each other's output.  Upon construction of the new well, current wells #1 and #2 would be discontinued.

Mayor Brandon White, while not disputing the preliminary report findings, stated he felt that if the work recovered significant capacity of wells #1 and #2, they should be retained in service also.  Spreen agreed this was a viable option and at the discretion of the city, keeping the wells would not substantially alter the cost of the project.

When asked the cost of the smaller option the council had previously asked Benton to focus on, Spreen reported the estimated cost of the rehab option was $2.77 million.  He then circulated a list of various scenarios involving various grant money options which would determine the amount of the project to be paid by the city.  In a worst case scenario, there would be no grant money.  Grant money cannot be determined until the project is started by getting bids.  

Additional funding for the project is potentially available through two main sources, USDA and EPA.   Funds available and interest rates for the loans are based on the median household income of the community compared to the state average.  Spreen explained if the Witt median household income is lower, available funding can go up and a lower interest rate can be attained.  He said this calculation changes regularly and prompt action would be beneficial.

White then asked about an item on the report labeled IEPA debt forgiveness of $1.5 million.  Spreen clarified that there was potential debt forgiveness of up to that amount allowed by the IEPA and determined on a case by case basis focusing on the city needs, such as health threats, again, the median household income of the community, and the city water rates.  In considering a city's ability to repay the loan, the agency calculates water rates should be above 1.5 percent of median household income.  Witt's water rates are currently far below the minimum rates that would be required to qualify for the funding options.  The calculation did include rural water and the city of Irving as one household each, which skewed the average increase needed.  Spreen said that while the water rates would need to increase, the percentage might not be as great when the volume of those two customers was entered into the calculation.  

Spreen concluded by confirming for White that the USDA had accepted the preliminary engineering report, but offered no further speculation on actual grant and funding options as neither agency will act on the application until the city commits to the project, and there is a problem in the city water system that needs addressed.  The council thanked Spreen for his time and agreed they need to further study the estimates prior to making a decision.

Earlier in the meeting, the council opened five bids received for the season mowing contract for the city section of Witt cemetery.  The council awarded the contract to Eric Lentz, whose bid was $280 per week.

City Clerk Nancy Hughes requested the council allow the utility bills to be paid on the 15th of the month ahead of the monthly meeting.  She said the utilities involved were always the same and always late due to waiting for approval at the monthly meeting.  Councilman Jay Marten made a motion the council determine a list of preapproved vendors that could be paid ahead of the approval of bills and water deposits refunded, with the requirement that these payments be reported at the meeting and that the other two signatories on the account sign the checks.  The motion was seconded by Jim Van Ostren and approved by the council.

Other visitors heard by the council included Lynn Cady, who had returned to "check the progress" of the council in addressing her complaints regarding trash and neglected properties in Witt.  Mayor White informed her the city had sent several letters to the owners of the properties in question, which was the agreed upon first step of action.  He further reported that he wished to review the city rules on inoperable vehicles with the possibility of changing the city ordinance at a future meeting.

A representative from Envision Witt reported that the group has planned a meeting for April 16 to set the date for the city cleanup day project.  The meeting will be held at 6:30 p.m. in the basement of Witt United Methodist Church and she invited anyone interested to attend.

In old business discussed, White said that Witt Bar LLC had paid the required fee and he had signed their city liquor license.  Ads for the rock hauling bid are to be placed with a bid opening scheduled to take place at the April council meeting.

Hughes reported a revised amount of $632 as the cost to get maps of the city section of the Witt cemetery.  The computerized spreadsheet version of the map inquired about by Marten at the previous meeting would cost an additional $200 to $300.  All agreed this would be money well spent, given some of the previous issues the city has had with the cemetery.  On a motion by Marten, seconded by Tim Taylor, the council approved purchasing the maps.

Fire chief Tom Roberts reported the Witt Fire Department had answered 46 calls since the February meeting.  He said the truck recently purchased was fully operational, in service, and they were very happy with it thus far.  He told the council the Raymond-Harvel Fire Department had purchased a new grain bin rescue tube and donated their old one to the Witt Fire Department.  Other departmental news included news that smoke detectors were now available for the smoke detector giveaway program and that the fire department now has a website.

The city had received an estimate of $900 to replace the city of Witt sign that had been destroyed.

The council adjourned at 9:21 p.m.

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