There will be a town hall meeting at Salem City Hall at 6p tonight to talk about a new project to rebuild the John Hay Water Treatment Facility and the possibility of raising water rates for Salem customers.
According to Salem Mayor Troy Merry he promised voters during the election over a year ago that if the City of Salem was going to make any big changes, he would have a town hall meeting where they could ask questions.
“I’m having our engineers tonight along with those who conducted a rate study and the City Council and the Board of Public Works,” said Merry. “If anybody has a question, there are people there to answer them.”
Appearing on WSLM’s Coffee Club Monday morning, Merry explained that the city no longer uses water from Lake Salinda or uses the water treatment plant there.
The plant at Lake John Hay is in disrepair and studies have been undertaken to come up with a solution.
Merry said grants were sought to pay for a new water treatment facility for Lake John Hay but the municipality was turned down because Salem’s water rates were too low.
“Our water rates – not counting sewer and trash pickup – the minimum bill was $18,” said Merry. “I got to calling around similar cities like Salem and found their minimum bill was $30, $40 and $50.”
Also, the City of Salem’s trash removal has cost tax payers the same thing they have since Frank Newkirk Sr was a mayor, back in the early 90s – just $5.50 per month.
“They pick up trash and brush and if you put a fridge out, they’ll get that too…for $5.50,” said Merry. “I called around to other cities like Salem and found their trash bill was about $11.”
Updating the city’s water facilities was a major factor for becoming Mayor of Salem.
“That’s our number one project,” Merry said. “We’re going to see it through. We have phone conferences at least once every other week with the engineering company to make sure we’re on track. What we need to do and what we need to follow up on.”
Merry said the new water treatment facility will be on the same property.
And as far as water quality goes, Merry said Lake John Hay has “very good quality water.”
The first thing on the list is the treatment plant, followed by the city’s four water towers.
“Hopefully we’ll be current when this is done for many years to come,’ he said.
Asked if the new system and treatment plant will be good for 40 years?
“We’re going to budget for maintenance after it’s built,” said Merry. “If we keep it maintained it will last for years.”
Merry said the cost to produce drinking water “ is unreal.”
“I didn’t know until I got into office, how much it costs,” he said. “The last time the rates were raised in 2004. You don’t want to charge people more than what we must. We can’t qualify for a grant because our rates are so low. I have tried to figure out how we can pull this off without raising rates. We had to have an income study and a rate study. Income study…to see if we qualify for any grants. They will get in contact with residents to see if we can qualify for that. I want to exhaust every avenue we have.”
Merry said if rates are raised, there is a possibility of raising them a little each year for three years.
“I’ve never believed in raising rates where they can’t afford it. To me a few dollars means a lot. We’ve come up with some plans, if we do a rate increase….I think where we can do this over a three year period….it won’t impact people as hard.”
Merry said plans were to, hopefully, begin construction of the new treatment plan in 2018 with it being finished in 2019.
“I’m impatient…I want it done,” he said. “If someone is going to pay for it, they are going to want to progress.”
Merry said there were approx. 3000 people on Salem water. More are using the water with wholesale water being pumped to New Pekin and East Washington Water Corporation.
“If you’re drinking treated water, it’s probably coming from John Hay,” said Merry.
East Washington also has a plan to increase the capacity of Lake John Hay, said Merry.
“East Washington has a project that won’t cost the city anything….$1 million project to raise the dam and raise the water level about 4 feet,” the Mayor said. “It will be like pouring Lake Salinda into Lake John Hay…it will be like two lakes in one.”