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Wastewater talks look good for Auburn

By: Jim Ruffalo, Looking Behind the Scenes
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It wasn’t that long ago that a deal such as the one I’m about to tell you about would have caused trepidation — at least — for the city of Auburn. But because the village has had the foresight to cut expenses and put something aside for that inevitable rainy day, the city has a very good bargaining position. As usual, somebody with a severe case of the financial shorts has come up with a deal too good to pass up, or so they say. Because Auburn has been such a great patsy in the past — think about how it helped finance the moving of DeWitt Center’s crucial governmental offices to Roseville — it seemed too good of a mark to pass up this time. The financial shorts party in this case is the city of Lincoln. Depending upon which source you care to believe, Lincoln not only is cash-starved, but is spending future money now. One knowledgeable sort insists that Lincoln is just about whizzed through its 2012 revenues and here we are with about six weeks of 2010 still left on the calendar. No doubt about it. Lincoln needs cash and it needs it yesterday! So doing what any good business does in hard times, it searches for a resource it can leverage for some greenback. And right now, about the only thing Lincoln has that can do any financial good is its top-of-the-line waste-water treatment facility. For some time know, Lincoln has been wooing Placer County entities to climb on board the sewage treatment train, but each and every time the offer was leaving the station, the perspective passenger found the price of a ticket was a wee bit too high. Therefore, it should be of no surprise that after a short series of recent meetings, Lincoln is prepared to lower the fare. Supervisors Jim Holmes and Robert Weygandt took part in those meetings, as did county CEO Tom Miller. Also on hand was Auburn Mayor Bridget Powers, who reports that Lincoln is prepared to give the city a completely researched bottom-line offer to join a regional operation. “We’re still looking into it, but one ‘plus’ of the idea is that the state has been pushing the regional concept on us for quite awhile,” she said, adding that when the local permit expires in about five years, Auburn’s system will have to be able to handle aluminum and pharmaceuticals removal from its waters. But — thankfully — the bottom line for Powers usually is the bottom line. “They (Lincoln) want us to help fund another study. Our share would be about $28,000 with Placer County coming up with the rest ($42,000). I’m a bit hesitant to spend that kind of money, especially when all of the figures anybody needs to come up with a proposal are already available,” she said. “What we’ll eventually get is a side-by-side comparative proposal for 10 years. We’ll look at the figures and make a decision,” Powers said. The issue was supposed to be on Monday night’s City Council agenda, but council member Bill Kirby — who’s been an integral part of trying to solve this dilemma — has gone back into the hospital and will miss that meeting. “We’ll take it up in January, although I understand the Board of Supervisors is scheduled to discuss it on Tuesday,” she said. Happily, I report that Auburn is on the correct side of the take-it-or-leave-it line on this one. It already has an economical and up to code waste water treatment system, and while it welcomes growth, it’s highly doubtful an influx of new citizenry will strain the existing system. Lincoln needs to work quickly, Or rather, Lincoln’s City Manager (Jim Estep) needs a quick solution. It’s as if his job depends upon it. Oh, that’s right. It does! Whenever a city gets strapped for cash and is unable to solve the problems associated with a weak financial structure, somebody has to be the designated scapegoat. City managers know this upon arrival, and for good measure, the point is pressed upon them at departure. Also, Estep was also the target of the local Tea Party during the recent elections, in which two of the Liptonites won. Quite frankly, Lincoln needs Auburn and not vice-versa. To put not too fine a point on it; Lincoln is effluent, Auburn is affluent.