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Our View: County, cities need to stop wasting time

Our View
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To craft an opening line about supervisors and city leaders wasting time over a regional wastewater treatment plant proposal may be a little obvious, but so is the apparent lack of communication and decision-making. For years, Placer County, the city of Auburn and the city of Lincoln have tossed back and forth cost estimates, rate increase questions and construction dates but have yet to move forward. Last week the board of supervisors decided to yet again delay a decision to join up with a regional plant proposal spearheaded by Lincoln or upgrade its North Auburn plant. Supervisor Jim Holmes said the board still has questions about the new sewer system and wants to find out what the city of Auburn will do. In return the city of Auburn is waiting for the county to make a decision. Leaders from the county and cities need to form a Joint Powers Authority that can make decisions and review information so all parties involved can move forward in the best interest of current and future ratepayers. Information regarding the regional wastewater treatment plant, such as costs and timelines, has fluctuated since the project was first introduced more than 15 years ago. Construction costs skyrocketed to $200 million in 2008 and caused the county and city to understandably shy away from taking on such a beast. But now costs are lower at $92 million. Still, hesitation persists. Leaders from the county and city are not sure how the new system will be controlled and it’s still unknown what the impact will be to their ratepayers. Those are valid concerns. Construction costs should be finalized and leaders need to be able to tell ratepayers the price tag and whether or not it’s worth it. On the surface a regional plan looks like the way of the future. State and water board regulations are bound to become stricter and it will be hard for smaller plants to keep up with the costs that come along with meeting stringent restrictions and maintenance upgrades. The alternative is for the county and city to move forward with upgrades to their current plants. The city says it’s in a good position to carefully consider a regional solution. The county is in a more precarious situation. Its North Auburn plant, which serves about 7,880 residential and commercial and industrial customers, has been paying $15,000 a month in fines since June because it hasn’t been in compliance with clean water standards. It’s all the more reason for the county and cities of Auburn and Lincoln to move quickly to form a Joint Powers Authority. A Joint Powers Authority allows two or more public authorities to work together to make decisions regarding a regional project. The county and cities of Auburn and Lincoln should agree to establish an authority with two representatives each from its respective boards and then allow the authority to make a decision as to whether or not to move forward with a regional plant or abandon the project. The authority should carefully weigh the pros and cons, settle on the true project cost and highly publicize how rates will change. There should also be several chances for public comment. The idea of adding another level of bureaucracy may seem counterproductive at first, but it seems necessary in this case when three different entities are not communicating as well as they could be. A Joint Powers Authority would help build trust among the agencies and create a board with one sole agenda item: to make a decision on one project. Action and a plan are needed swiftly for the benefit of the county, cities, residents and businesses footing the bill.