Miles to go before complete was the theme for the City of Sulphur Springs Utilities Department during conversation with the city council Tuesday evening as the council begins the budget process for next year. The Utilities Department was just one of the city departments to visit with the council.
For the council, most of the time spent Tuesday was with the Utilities Department. In a process of replacement and improvement that began twenty years ago, about 18 miles of sewer and 18 miles of water lines have been replaced, according to City Manager Marc Maxwell. Maxwell said for both utilities, about 100 miles of replacement remains for each. He said much of the pipe for the two utilities is nearing the 50 year age limit. If the pace of replacement does not increase in the next 10-15 years, the age of the pipes will hit the city hard.
To take up water and sewer lines will destroy streets, according to Maxwell. However, with street improvements also on the agenda for the city, the replace of lines will, in many instances, go hand and hand with the improvements made. He noted the improvements being made currently on Locust Street and the recently completed Bill Bradford Road as examples of a total rework of utilities and street.
How to pay for the improvements is also a question facing the council. At this time the State of Texas does not remit to cities and counties any portion of gas taxes collected. With the legislature seeking to restrict the ability of cities and counties to levy additional taxes, Maxwell said he is seeking to join with other cities and counties in seeking a portion of the tax. That money could be used in developing utility improvements. He also noted that increases in water and sewer fees could be an answer. One of the unique ideas presented is to provide utility improvement districts. A utility improvement district would consist of neighborhoods or segments of the city willing to split the cost of improvements. That willingness could move the district up the list of areas to be improved.
Maxwell said no decisions for the Utilities Department were made by the council but the initial steps are being taken in the planning process.