City wary of county commitment in sewer project

Without a commitment from St Johns County that they will enforce hook-up to the proposed West Augustine sewer treatment expansion, if built, the St Augustine City Commission expressed reservations about moving forward.

Most of the residences where the city would furnish sewer service are located in the county and are currently utilizing underground septic tanks.

Commissioner Errol Jones, while acknowledging the health benefits to homeowners and reliability of city sewer service, alleges that the county will try to make the city look like the “bad guys” when they assess the one-time hook-up fees associated with building out the supporting infrastructure.

A request for a feasibility study and design work could lead the city into a $20 million sewer line project.

The feasibility study, of course, is not free — it carries a $377,000 price tag.

The city is being asked to front the cost of the study with the understanding that they will be reimbursed when the project is built out.

But, what if residents are reluctant to commit to hook-up fees? What if the county doesn’t require their residents to disconnect their septic tanks and hook-up to the city sewer lines?

Many residents in the service area are expected to resist the new costs. The feasibility study could quickly become a $377,000 roll of toilet paper.

The city and county have an interlocal agreement that requires the county to pay for half of the cost of the feasibility study if, for whatever reason, the report shows that the project cannot be justified financially. The city would still have a roll of toilet paper in that case, but it would only cost $188,500.

Some city residents are leery of interlocal agreements with St Johns County in view of their handling of the Willie Galimore Center interlocal maintenance and operation agreement. The city could not afford to foot the bill on their own, nor would they want to.

City officials had a solution; they presented commissioners a proposed loan agreement for $1.8 million from the State Revolving Fund.

Public Works Director Martha Graham said the city had just received the loan agreement, along with word that, if it is not executed before January 1, the interest rate on the loan can rise significantly.

Commissioners seemed pressured to act on-the-spot Monday night, but reluctantly authorized City Manager John Regan to review the agreement and forward it to the county commission with the insistence that the county be responsible for enforcing what they viewed as the key element of feasibility — mandatory hook-ups.

If the project were deemed feasible, the balance of the $1.8 million will be used for system design.

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