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Salem utility customers to receive credit

SALEM — Salem sewer customers can expect to see a credit on their next bill, with the increased sewer rates not showing up until the July bill.

City Utilities Commission members agreed Tuesday that their intent was for the new sewer rate to begin with usage effective May 1, which won’t show up until the July bill.

A billing snafu occurred when customers received their May bills and noticed the higher rate was charged. The May bill represented usage from March, which was before the effective date for the new rate.

Commission Chairman Bob Hodgson said questions were raised and they checked with their attorneys. He said it boils down to what was their intent and they all agreed the billing for the new rate was supposed to start with the May usage.

What that means is that customers will receive their bill in June and notice a credit from the May bill. The June bill will reflect the old rate, also.

Hodgson thanked the staff for their hard work in figuring out the credits, which had to be done manually, and providing that information to the billing company.

In another matter that could affect customers, the Utilities Department announced the annual hydrant flushing program will begin the week of June 6. Discoloration of the water may be seen at times.

In other business at the special meeting, the commission agreed to move forward and hire Alfred Benesch Engineering to begin engineering the design for the water treatment plant upgrades, specifically for engineering design and permitting, contract administration, construction administration, meetings, funding assistance and pilot testing.

The focus will be on the engineering for Phases 1A and 1B related to work on communications/electrical and treatment process/optimization upgrades for the aging plant located off of Gamble Road next to the Salem Reservoir, along pilot study once the construction is complete to gauge the level of work required for Phase 1C, which will be done as a separate project for carbon filtration.

Brent Hall of Benesch estimated the design for Phases 1A and 1B will take 15 months in 2021 and 2022, then the project will go out for bid in early 2023 with a couple years for construction. The pilot study could take place in 2025, with construction of Phase 1C possible in 2026 depending on the pilot study findings.

The total cost of the engineering contract approved was estimated at $1,116,000 (without Phase 1C), but commissioners were advised the billing for engineering would more likely be done in phases, with the $675,000 over 15 months for the design phase, which comes out roughly to $40,000 per month.

Hall said the firm will actively work on finding funding for the project, such as grants or low-interest loans. Once the engineering is substantially started, Benesch will start shopping the project around for funding.

Hodgson said there are some things needing done at the plant that are critical. The total construction cost of the needed upgrades to the plant, for all three phases, along with engineering, contingencies and administration has been estimated at $14.5 million.

Commission Vice Chairman Randy Malmsberry asked if there were any funding sources available for engineering, which Hall said there are.

Benesch moved some of the work that was originally supposed to be part of Phase 1C into Phase 1B because it could affect what’s actually needed for Phase 1C. Those items moved included fixing the existing aeration system, working on the reservoir aeration system, adding an additional sludge lagoon, adding sand drying beds and replacing the transfer pumps.

The commission also met in executive session to discuss contract negotiations. When they returned to open session, they agreed to sell untreated water to Hilcorp to be used for fracking over five years, at a price of $1.95 per 1,000 gallons with annual inflationary increases. All costs for equipment and sanitizing will be covered by Hilcorp, which must carry $5 million in general liability insurance.

Hodgson said the company plans to open 13 new wells over the next five years, with most of them located southeast of Salem, including in Center and Elkrun townships.

mgreier@salemnews.net

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