Sewer expansion in question

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By Robin Bass

The expansion of Taylorsville’s estimated $2.6 million wastewater treatment plant recently received an $800,000 boost, but city officials said developers will still need to contribute to the project to ensure customers are not burdened with the cost.

Taylorsville Clerk Steve Biven said that the $800,000 Community Development Block Grant from the Department of Local Government will be added to a $400,000 Kentucky Infrastructure Authority grant – bringing the city $1.2 million closer to being able to pay for the project.

Hopes are to receive an additional $1.4 million from USDA Rural Development, said Biven, half in the form of a loan and half as a grant. The city’s plan was to use $600,000 from local developers to pay the  expected $700,000 loan, but now some developers are asking for refunds.

“If these guys aren’t going to be in here to pay this debt for the first 10 years, then the customers will have to pay that debt,” said Biven. “It was the developers that came to us wanting us to add their subdivisions. They are the ones that came to us asking us to build it.”

Five years ago, developers of Old South Plantation, River Heights (phase 2), Pin Oak and Highview Estates entered into an agreement with the city and contributed a combined sum of $600,000 toward the expansion of Taylorsville’s wastewater treatment facility. The agreement was that the city would expand the sewage treatment plant by May 3, 2008. After that date came and passed, developers of Highview Estates filed a lawsuit. Judge Steve Mershon ruled March 5 that the city was to refund Highview developers $162,840 plus interest for breach of contract.

“All we ever wanted was for the city to honor the agreement we had,” said James Allen Tipton, one of the developers of Highview Estates.

Since the judge’s ruling, other developers have questioned the city about getting their money back.

Old South Plantation developer Scott Travis said the company he owns with his father, Anthony Travis, borrowed $108,000 and “have been paying interest on it since May 2005.” Meanwhile, said Travis, the city has had the developers’ money sitting in an interest bearing account for half a decade. Travis formally requested the city to return his portion in a letter last March.

Other developers are also considering their options.

“I don’t think any of us want to stop the expansion of the sewer treatment plant,” said Steve Tichenor, a developer of Pin Oak subdivision. “But if one of us gets money back, we all should get it back and renegotiate.”

The court ruling has also caused city officials to look at their next course of action – even wondering if the expansion is needed at this time.

“When the judge ordered us to give that money back, it kind of threw everything back on the table,” said Biven. “We may not need to build it now. If the developers are out of the deal, we have no obligation to serve them.”

Biven said the decision about how to move forward will come after the city receives a recommendation from Kentucky Division of Water.

“They may say we are at capacity, but maybe we don’t need to be as big as we planned,” said Biven.

Initial plans were to increase the wastewater plant’s daily capacity from 200,000 gallons to one million – enough to accommodate 1,600 households. Currently, the plant serves 550 customers inside Taylorsville city limits.

Public Works Director Harold Compton said that a one million gallon capacity plant would be large enough to service all the annexed subdivisions and every house that could be built potentially on the 1,200 empty lots.

The recommendation – also known as an agreed order – from Kentucky Division of Water is expected to be handed down within the next month. In the meantime, Biven said the governmental agency has prohibited the city from issuing any more sewer permits.

When developers heard that sewer taps were placed under a moratorium, their frustration levels rose.

“Basically, you should have a sign that Taylorsville is closed for business,” said Scott Travis.

If a customer wants to buy one of his lots, Travis said he is not sure what he can do.

“Everything for sale is in limbo. People are going to wind up taking their money down the road to Bullitt or Shelby County and build somewhere else,” said Scott Travis.

And what about customers who are already in the process of having a new home built asked Anthony Travis. “We have one under construction and are ready to dig basements on three.”

Bivens said that any new applications for sewer taps would be sent to the Kentucky Division of Water and it would be up to that agency to provide waivers. The city will not be accepting payments for new water taps until the agreed order is received.

“We’re just waiting on the division of water to act,” said Biven.

Tipton said his biggest frustration “is the lack of communication between the city and developers.” He also envisioned the issue getting worse if not addressed quickly.

“It could be bad for economic development,” said Tipton.

Biven said the agreed order will not only recommend the extent of the wastewater treatment plant expansion, but it will also likely suggest rate increases for sewer services.

“They know that we haven’t raised rates in almost 10 years and they will probably recommend we do that to keep up with the costs,” said Biven.

Sewer bill amounts are determined by the volume of water used, not by the amount of wastewater that enters the sewer system.