There was good news and not-so-good news at the Astoria City Council meeting Monday.

Among the good news is the Aquatic Center, whose finances continue to improve under the leadership of JP Moss, interim director of the Astoria Parks and Recreation Department.

Moss said the goal is to get as close as possible to break-even by June 30. That's the end of the current fiscal year, which began with a projected $500,000 deficit when Moss took on the project. The "rocky turnaround" status has been replaced by a period of stability, Moss told the Council. "I believe that you will notice the facility go from stable this fiscal year to a very exciting, world-class operated facility next fiscal year," Moss said.

Congratulating Moss for his accomplishments, Mayor Willis Van Dusen said, "Going from a half-million-dollar deficit to possible break-even is secondary to what the Aquatic Center means to the city. It's what we all dreamed about."

Not so good was the news that the city's wastewater treatment plant, constructed in 1974, is in need of an upgrade to continue meeting state and federal requirements. A draft plan presented by consultant Dale Richwine, of Beaverton-based Richwine Environmental, highlighted the plant's deficiencies, but also pointed to the advantages of the low-tech three-stage lagoon system, which is located on the east end of town.

He came up with four possible options for improvement, with price tags ranging from $1.5 million to $60 million. Richwine suggested a $5,345,000 program that would be phased in over a period of 10 years.

To pay for the program, sewage rates would go up.

Public Works Director Ken Cook said, based on preliminary financial analysis, the average four-person household would see an estimated 6.9 percent increase in sewage rates in fiscal year 2010-11, rising to a 9.5 percent increase in 2013-14. That translates to an additional $2.29 per month increase, rising to a $3.37 per month increase.

Astoria water and sewer bills are sent out every two months. However, Richwine said once a plan is in place, the city will be eligible for funding help. "We'll be beating the bushes for federal and state programs and grants," Cook agreed.

In other business, the Council heard a presentation by Jeff Rusiecki, manager of the Astoria 9-1-1 Dispatch Center, on the advantages of converting the city's failing telephone communication system to one that will take advantage of the city's fiber-optic network, stabilize and enhance the city's phone system and improve emergency communications. The Council approved the purchase of the recommended Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP) system from Obsidian Technologies of Eugene for a maximum of $166,000. The system is expected to pay for itself in six years.

The Council also:

? authorized staff to solicit bids to re-sand the city water system's four slow-sand filter cells. Estimated cost is $897,000;

? approved a $14,550 contract with the state Department of Environmental Quality's laboratory for analysis of "priority persistent pollutants," as required by the state Legislature;

? authorized a $23,000 interfund loan from the Promote Astoria Fund to the Parks and Recreation Fund to assist with payment for Chinese art for the Chinese Park project;

? adopted an ordinance that amends the city's development code as it pertains to permit extensions and land divisions. The ordinance takes effect immediately;

? authorized purchase of testing equipment for $12,675 worth of facemasks used by fire, police and public works personnel;

? considered, but took no action, on a potential sale of city cemetery wetlands in Warrenton to Jason Palmberg, who would use the land for wetland mitigation.


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