Clarkston’s public works director has walked back statements he made about the Asotin County Public Utility District at this week’s Clarkston City Council meeting.
In an email sent Thursday to PUD Manager Tim Simpson and city officials, Kevin Poole said he wants to correct the record.
“I had stated that I suspected the PUD was not paying their fair share of sewer treatment costs,” Poole said. “That was in error. I researched the past five years of sewer treatment costs and established the (PUD) is paying their fair share of the operations and maintenance costs per the contract between the city and PUD.”
The issue arose Monday night when Poole spoke during a public hearing on the city’s 2020 revenues. Poole recommended a 15 percent increase for city sewer customers, saying it would help fund a master plan and rate survey that would ensure everyone using the system is paying a fair price.
In addition, the minutes of the latest Public Works Committee meeting indicated city customers “have unnecessarily been bearing the burden of a lower rate to the PUD for years.”
Simpson, who was not at the city council meeting, responded Tuesday with a strongly worded email to Poole and other city officials, imploring the public works director to explain his comments.
Flow into the wastewater treatment plant is metered, and the meter is inspected and calibrated annually to ensure that it is accurate, Simpson said. The PUD pays a percentage of the operations and maintenance, a percentage of the debt that funded sewer plant improvements and a percentage of administrative salaries at city hall.
“Please enlighten me as to how we could be inputting more flow into the WWTP than what the meter is showing,” Simpson said. “Please explain to me how we are not paying our fair share based upon the agreement the city council approved.”
Poole later apologized for sharing the incorrect information. City attorney Todd Richardson is now reviewing the correction to see if it needs to be formally adopted by the city council.
“I appreciate you correcting the record on this issue,” Simpson wrote to Poole on Thursday. “It means a great deal to me and the PUD Commissioners that you were willing to take this step.”
The city and PUD have a cost-share contract for processing wastewater at the sewer plant near 13th Street and Port Way, and the PUD pays its share based upon measured flow. The agreement went into effect on Dec. 1, 2011, and runs through Dec. 31, 2041.
There are 42 county residents connected to the city’s sewer collection system, and they pay 1.5 times the rate of city customers, Poole said Thursday.
Earlier this year, the city of Clarkston and PUD were moving forward with a plan to transfer operations of the sewer plant to the utility district. PUD officials said the district wanted to help the city by assuming all of the liability of operating the plant and sewer collection systems, taking on five city employees, and eventually assuming more than $10 million in debt and the future $22 million in upgrades.
However, the negotiations came to a standstill when the city indicated it may begin imposing a 6 percent water utility tax that is still on the books. The tax has not been collected since 1997, when the PUD successfully disputed the legality of it, based on the law and court cases at the time.
If imposed, the tax is expected to bring in about $60,000 a year to the city, Clerk Steve Austin said.
According to the latest minutes of the Public Works Committee, city officials said the negotiations were an eye-opening experience, and the city needs to improve its stewardship of the wastewater treatment plant. Building reserves to maintain and replace equipment has been recommended.
Sandaine may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (208) 848-2264. Follow her on Twitter @newsfromkerri.