Council likely to decide on utility management next month

Sean C. Morgan

The Sweet Home City Council will likely decide next month whether to continue contracting with Jacobs Engineering for management of the city’s water and wastewater treatment plants.

City staff and Murraysmith, an engineering firm, conducted an inspection of the Water Treatment Plant earlier this month to evaluate the progress of Jacobs in addressing deficiencies at the plant. Staff presented the findings at the council’s regular meeting on Oct. 22.

The council further discussed whether to continue using Jacobs to manage the plants during a special session held on Oct. 30. City Manager Ray Towry said staff needed a consensus from the council to move forward.

The city conducted an assessment of the facility in March, compiling a list of issues and deferred maintenance at the plant ranging from corroded pipes and broken door closers to improperly functioning electronics.

Representatives of Jacobs told

the council earlier this month that Jacobs had addressed many of them and had scheduled action on other items through November. Some items will be added to the city’s Capital Improvement Plan.

“The contractor has corrected some of the deficiencies and has started to identify solutions for larger capital needs at the Water Treatment Plant,” said Preston Van Meter, a Murraysmith engineer in a memo to Public Works Director Greg Springman. “They have coordinated testing and repairs with various equipment vendors and seem to be making progress in catching up with the long list of deferred maintenance issues identified by city staff. Continued diligence will be required moving forward on deferred maintenance to assure the future maintenance program is proactive rather than reactive.”

During the assessment this month, Murraysmith noted 20 additional issues. Among them, two 3,000-watt universal power supply units have a “replace battery” light on; pipes and fittings are rusting and need to be recoated with an appropriate epoxy system after proper surface preparation; cobwebs have accumulated inside and outside the building; some fluorescent bulbs were burned out; and the fluoride analyzer remained offline.

Springman reported the findings to the council during its regular meeting on Oct. 22.

“It looks like there has been some progress,” said Councilor Dave Trask.

“Still some things that need to be worked on,” Springman said. The city and Jacobs still need to work out what is due to deferred maintenance and what is thanks to the useful lifespan of the equipment.

“In Jacobs’ defense, they are working really hard,” said city Utilities Manager Steve Haney. It’s looking better, who worked for Jacobs before hiring on with the city. “They’re being pretty proactive right now.”

“As a council, we do have to decide whether we bring this in house or go with Jacobs,” said Mayor Greg Mahler.

City staff members have been researching options for managing the water and wastewater treatment plants. The city began contracting with CH2M Hill OMI to manage and operate the plants in 2006. Jacobs purchased CH2M Hill in 2017.

During the special session, Councilor Diane Gerson said the council should amend the contract with Jacobs with a stipulation that there would be no increase in compensation to Jacobs, noting that an increase would imply “a job well done.”

As it stands, the city has had to hire a utilities manager, Haney, to oversee the contract, Gerson said. Jacobs should be required to pay that manager’s salary.

Additionally, all maintenance at the plants should be completed at Jacobs’ expense, she said.

Then she would favor extending the contract with Jacobs, she told the council.

“In light of the lack of transparency and not coming to us to get these things addressed, I agree they need to be held responsible,” Trask said. “That’s not on us.”

“I think Jacobs is making good efforts,” Mahler said, but he agreed with Gerson.

“I think we need to have some ongoing audits and in one year see where we’re at.”

Councilor Susan Coleman also indicated she liked Gerson’s suggestion.

“I am not happy with the stewardship.” Councilor Lisa Gourley said. She’s not in favor of the contract, but she would like to hear a response to Gerson’s proposal.

Towry said he would submit the proposal to Jacobs in writing and await a response. He said he would request a response within 30 days. Representatives of Jacobs were present at the special session but did not speak to the council.

Present at the regular council meeting were councilors Cortney Nash, Mahler, Gerson and Trask. Susan Coleman, Lisa Gourley and James Goble were absent.

Present at the special session were Coleman, Gourley, Mahler, Gerson, Goble and Trask. Nash was absent.

In other business during the regular session, the council:

n Continued discussion of a proposed livability ordinance.

At its previous meeting, the council learned that nearly all regulations in a 2015 Corvallis ordinance were already addressed by existing city ordinances, state law and building codes.

“I think everything is on the books already,” Gerson said. “It’s just a matter of how we’re going to enforce it.”

Trask said the city needs to address issues of damaged and messy homes, but “I don’t want police officers going to a trailer park and going door to door.”

If they do go to a location that has a mess inside, he thinks the city should at least give that information to a landlord.

The mess Trask refers to is what he and Mahler have encountered as firefighters, with doors that won’t open, no running water, no smoke detectors and garbage piled up to the point where the floor wasn’t visible, for example. When he worked as a technician for CenturyLink, he was not required by his employer to enter those places, Trask said.

Mahler said an ordinance would be another tool, but he agreed that “there’s no way you’re going to be able to go into somebody’s home. We need to have some kind of tool to say, ‘Hey, let’s get this cleaned up.’”

Gerson asked whether the police can take action when children are involved.

Lynn told her police can take action where children or elderly persons are involved.

The council may discuss the proposed ordinance further, Mahler told The New Era, but the council has no plans at this time to continue moving forward with it at this point.

– Received a draft copy of a new Capital Improvement Plan, which outlines city projects for the next five years, ranging from street overlays and water pipe replacement to improvements to the Public Library building.

The plan will return to the council agenda Nov. 12 for possible approval.

– Approved the consolidation of the eight separate lots comprising Sankey Park into two to simplify project planning and grant applications.

– Approved an ordinance prohibiting urination and defecation in public places.

– Approved an amendment adding the human voice to the city’s noise ordinance. Under the ordinance, police officers could cite persons based on loud voices. Previously, according to Snyder, police officers had only the option of arresting a person for misdemeanor disorderly conduct to address loud voices.