Like cities all across the nation, Astoria is struggling to make ends meet during these difficult economic times. And, like most cities, it is hoping for help from federal and state economic stimulus packages now being crafted.
At the Astoria City Council meeting Monday, councilors looked at a federally mandated project on the agenda and wondered aloud how a city with aging infrastructure can be expected to pay millions of dollars for required upgrades. The preliminary estimate for the second phase of a project to provide the city's two open drinking water reservoirs with floating covers and liners has ballooned to $1.95 million from an earlier estimate of $1.33 million. Mayor Willis Van Dusen said when estimates go up like this one did, it makes it very difficult for the Council, which has to make multimillion dollar decisions. "We need better information," he said.
City Manager Paul Benoit said the city will have to raise water rates to pay off the low-interest state loan Astoria hopes to receive for the project, which has a strict timeline. The rate increase will be based on results of an in-depth rate study expected to be finished by next month. "We'll have hard decisions to make as to what the community can afford," Benoit said. In the meantime, Benoit said he is actively tracking the federal economic stimulus package, which is expected to favor projects like this one that are "shovel ready," that is, designed and ready to start.
The Council voted unanimously to put the reservoir cover project out to bid, and Public Works Director Ken Cook said he thinks the bidding climate will be favorable. Although Councilor Russ Warr cast a yes vote, he said he opposes the project unless the city receives stimulus money. "I am unequivocally opposed to going forward with this. I think it's folly and more than our poor taxpayers can afford." He and many others consider the project an unnecessary precaution because the city's drinking water has had few contamination problems over the decades under the current system.
In other action, the Council:
? approved a $60,000 direct appointment contract with Liquivision Technology to clean the city's two open reservoirs and three storage tanks that store treated drinking water;
? approved sending a letter of support to the Columbia River Estuary Study Taskforce (CREST), which is submitting a grant application to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on behalf of Astoria, Warrenton, Clatsop County and Wahkiakum County in Washington to work with each jurisdiction on projects to protect and restore coastal resources in areas that are experiencing growth pressures;
? approved a contract with the Portland consulting firm Cogan Owens Cogan for up to $44,000 to complete the city's Riverfront Vision Project. A total of $30,000 will come from state Department of Land Conservation and Development (DLCD) grant funds;
? awarded a contract to Big River Construction Inc. for City Hall renovation with a maximum preconstruction fee of $10,000 and 4.9 percent of the cost of the work.
The Council also heard a presentation on the city's alternative energy projects from Cook and a pavement management system report from Salem-based Capitol Asset and Pavement Services.