Rockford accepts report, prepares for 2014 utility repairs

The Rockford City Council conducted a public hearing on a 2014 utilities improvement project in the Maplewood Manor development.

At this meeting, a final draft of the feasibility report -— prepared by the city’s engineer, Jared Ward of Wenck -— was presented, discussed and put to a vote. Residents in the improvement area were notified of the hearing, as well an open house related to this project earlier in the month.

Rockford Mayor Renee Hafften gave a description of the project, including what it entails, why it is being done and what responsibilities residents have in regard to the condition of sewer lines on their properties:

“The City Council reviewed the 20-year capital improvement plan to maintain our streets and utilities. This plan is in place to ensure costs are spread over a period of time to avoid large debt at once. Originally we planned to do a mill and overlay of the streets in 2014 for Maplewood Manner.

“However, based on feedback and discussions from the open house held on Nov. 5, the decision was made not to make the road improvements this time. “Therefore, residents will not be assessed for any street improvements after the 2014 improvements that we do to utilities.

“In 1998, however, the council decided to, at that time, not update sewer and water mains when the streets were done in Maplewood Manor due to the additional cost and assessments. The hope was that the utilities lines would last another 20 years. Unfortunately, that is not the case. In the last four years, or so, there have been many water main breaks in the Maplewood Manor development. This is costing the city an additional $40,000-plus each year to fix. This is not unusual when the system is over 50 years old and needs to be replaced. During the replacement of the water and sewer mains that we have planned for 2014, the council is planning to review all the lines coming from each house to determine if there are problems that need to be addressed.”

Hafften went on to explain that, aside from replacing broken mains, there are costs associated with the current situation where as the city is taking in about 300,000 gallons of wastewater at its sewer plant, but is only charging out for 200,000. Water infiltration is seeping into the system through cracks, allowing for the large disparity. Hafften added that the additional stress the plant is experiencing could curtail expanded service and potential growth within the city if not alleviated.

She further relayed that all affected properties would have an inspection from the line that runs down the street to the individual home to determine if repairs are necessary. These repairs will be the responsibility of the property owner who will cover the cost from the street line to their home. Hafften added that the council is considering options to help residents pay for the improvements incrementally if needed through assessments. The cost of the camera inspection is $250 per household, to be paid by the property owner. If a line is considered to be in good condition, or was recently replaced, there will be no need for work or additional costs at this time. Hafften said that the council is still in discussion over enforcing identified and needed repairs.

Following the mayor’s outline of the project’s purpose and scope, Ward delivered a brief summary of the feasibility study for this project – amended from the original with the absence of street improvements – and answered questions from residents in the proposed improvement area.

The council voted unanimously to accept the final draft of a feasibility report for the 2014 Utility Improvement Project, to order the improvement and to prepare plans and specifications for it.

This is the first improvement project of this magnitude in the city, Councilor Jeannette Graner explained. She said that the city is a relatively young one that hasn’t had to consider these kinds of major improvement projects. The existing systems, she said, were in stalled in the 1950s and ’60s with an expectation of 50 years of use. It’s now time, and staff and council have been looking to other cities that have experienced this level of replacement and improvement to see how they’ve handled some of the details, including financing and assessments.

In other news, Rockford City Administrator Nancy Carswell has submitted her resignation. Carswell, who has worked for the city for 29 years, was thanked by the council for her years of commitment and hard work. Carswell will leave her position in March.

The next regular meeting of the Rockford City Council is at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 26, at Rockford City Hall, 6031 Main St.