Line-scrubbing continues as city looks for money

This week’s budget workshop was more than just a lot of spreadsheets and number crunching for the City of St Augustine — department heads, including Public Works Director Martha Graham, made presentations regarding city operations that must be addressed, sooner than later.

Graham, who is a licensed Professional Engineer, oversees one of the three essential core-functions of local government — to ensure the health, safety and general welfare of the citizens of the City of St Augustine.

Graham told commissioners and staff members during the meeting that she has “gotten her share” of brown water complaints this year — concerns echoed by at least one commissioner who said his wife complained to him after their water turned brown while she was in the midst of washing some white linens.

Historic City News has repeatedly called for the City to refocus local government efforts on core missions and accountability; observing that those areas have taken a back seat to unrealistic spending on four-years of celebrations that are sorely lacking in local taxpayer support.

Graham cited causes for recent problems; including water main breaks, pressure fluctuation and, of course, older metal pipes with rust and sediment build-up.

The Public Works Department maintains 200-miles of water lines, of which 65 miles are still made of metal. The remainder of the water supply is delivered through a non-corrosive plastic material.

The solution is not as simple as replacing the metal lines; although, eventually, that will be the outcome. “Replacement is a slow, and expensive, process,” Graham said. “The cost for total replacement of the remaining metal lines is about $16.6 million.”

In the interim, Graham says her department has taken steps that include automatic uni-directional spot flushing, chemical corrosion studies and, water main replacements.

As she waits for future funding, Graham said that utility workers have been dislodging and removing sediment from pipes identified as “dirty” by employing a method that forces high-velocity clean water through the sediment-filled pipes. She told the workshop members that, by controlling the route taken by the water, the department achieves a deep-cleaning effect as the water passes from clean to dirty pipes.

Falling interest rates may provide some relief for the city’s metal pipe replacement program, according to City Comptroller, Mark Litzinger.

The due date for the city’s entire $22 million of utility-bond-secured debt, could be pushed back another two years from 2021 to 2023, Litzinger reported during the workshop.

Without adding to the city’s existing principal debt, Litzinger believes that there is a potential to save an estimated $900,000 a year in financing costs — if the bonds are re-financed at today’s lower rates.

Litzinger estimated that by pushing the due date back until 2023, the city could realize a savings of about $4-$5 million over the life of the bonds. Litzinger suggested that the entire savings be earmarked for the water line replacement program.

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