Only clerk votes no on cost-sharing plan
by BETH ALTENA
Larry Campbell, director of the PARCCside Wastewater Treatment plant, estimates that Plainfield Township’s portion of the cost of maintaining sewer structure with plant staff will be roughly $450,000 annually. He compared his estimate to the township’s cost when Kent County Department of Public Works held the contract—a job they are no longer willing to do.
Campbell said in 2009 the bill for the township was over a million dollars. In 2010 it was $824,000; in 2011 the county charged Plainfield $829,000 and to date this year the bill is at $569,000. He spoke before the Plainfield Township Board Monday, July 16, prior to the board’s vote on whether to approve a cost-sharing agreement with the North Kent Sewer Authority (NKSA).
There are many variables that could affect the cost to Plainfield Township for their portion of infrastructure (pipes, lift stations, cleaning, joint and shared portions) of the sewer collection system that routes wastewater to the PARCCside plant on Coit Avenue in Grand Rapids.
The NKSA is a joint entity formed by five member communities—the City of Rockford and the townships of Alpine, Cannon, Courtland and Plainfield.
The maintenance on the sewer collection lines has been maintained by Kent County Department of Public Works, which had a contract that is now expired and that the county has been unwilling to reenter. According to Gary Seger, utility services superintendent for the county, who spoke before the board at the last regular meeting, Kent County is dissolving his department and letting go his staff of nine people. One of his former employees has already been hired by NKSA and Seger himself will be joining the staff at PARCCside when his job with the county ends. The NKSA will begin maintaining the sewer lines October 1 of this year.
Member communities have been provided a cost-sharing agreement to either approve or decline. Prior to the July 16 vote by Plainfield, Cannon Township and the City of Rockford had already unanimously approved the agreement, which they believe will cut costs considerably compared to the county doing the work.
“When I started looking at my numbers, what I came up with is $450,000,” said Campbell to the board. Campbell said variables include how much pipeline cleaning the township wants. Cleaning the entire system every five years requires cleaning 30 miles a year. More cleaning costs more, but not enough cleaning might result in backups in the system.
Township Supervisor George Meek pointed out for the benefit of the audience that Plainfield Township does not own the PARCCside plant on Coit Avenue, although the township is the largest user with about half of the sewer connections in the entire five-member system. Meek said NKSA has its own board, its own meetings and the board members believe by taking on the job by employees who will work from the plant, can save 40 to 60 percent of the cost compared to what Kent County was charging.
Plainfield Township board members were invited to make comments before they put the agreement to vote.
Chuck Weldon said, “We all will benefit from this. We will have half the staff Kent County had, and I know we can do a better job.”
He said the township has called the county repeatedly about manhole covers that fit poorly and often flip up, damaging roadways. “We can fix that,” Weldon said.
Township Manager Robert Homan reiterated that this was an anticipated development since NKSA’s development 15 years ago. “Getting to this point has taken us 15 years. Sufficient to say there is room [at the plant]. That’s not by accident. We built it big because we knew this was coming.”
Clerk Scott Harvey said he was concerned about “big unknowns,” which include the number of backups in the system throughout a year. He also said he was uncomfortable not knowing what PARCCside employees make and pay toward benefits, given recent pressure of Plainfield Township water treatment plant employees to earn less and pay more toward benefits.
Rick Solle, township engineer, said the system had a higher number of backups in the past than in recent years. “The last couple of years the number is way down. In the last three years I can’t think of any that were caused by neglect. We did have some due to contractors.”
He said he didn’t know if contractors were held liable for backups because the county handled those incidents. He also said the NKSA board meets the first Thursday of every month at the plant and invited any board members to sit in anytime.
With only Clerk Harvey voting no, the board passed the cost-sharing agreement. On the same evening, Alpine Township voted 3-3 with one board member absent. Courtland Township will consider the agreement on August 1 during their regular monthly meeting.