Editor's note: This is the second in a series about the city of Madison's finances and public programs. Today's article looks at the municipal infrastructure.
Sewage, garbage, recycling. Old rusted, leaking pipes under the ground. Not things to spend much time thinking about...flush it, toss it and forget it. But Madison City Commissioners have to address those items, which make up a good portion of the city budget each year.
Utilities Commissioner Richard Ericsson said it's what you can't see that is the biggest problem. A large number of city sewer and water pipes in the ground are more than 100 years old -- and some are leaking.
The city has undertaken two extensive projects -- one is aimed to improve the way sewage is treated; the other is on water treatment and delivery. A $5.2 million sewage treatment plant is now online.
"The people of Madison can be proud of the fact that we, unlike a lot of other cities, are in a position where no raw sewage is ever discharged into public water sources," Ericsson said. "Our new plant is capable of treating all our sewage, and in times of extreme emergency, we have sewage lagoons that we can utilize to make sure we contain all our sewage."
The new plant didn't come without an increase in cost.
"When we undertook to replace our old sewage treatment system, the bankers, state and federal government said our existing rates were too low to accommodate our costs," said Ericsson. "Essentially, they told us we could have money to make improvements, but we had to increase the amount we charge to meet those improvement costs."
Total 2013 budget figures for sewer are $1,049,253, of which it is expected that users will pay $1,070,100. City residents saw a 2-percent increase in their city sewer bills this year. A customer discharging 5,000 gallons per month saw an increase of 68 cents.
City residents also saw an increase in their water bill, from $26.23 per month to $29.37 on average. That is an 11.5-percent increase and comes on top of an 11-percent hike in city water rates a year ago.
A $3.2 million upgrade for water will mean new treatment facilities and above-ground storage.
"We were able to save money by getting private funding for this project," said Ericsson. "We saved $75,000 on interest alone."
He said current underground storage facilities hold 400,000 gallons of water, but the new above-ground facility will allow for more than a million gallons of water to be stored.
"When these facilities are completed, we will have better quality of water, but the problem of old pipes underground will still have to be addressed."
The total budget figure for water is $1,390,562, of which users are expected to pay $1,331,500. Broken down by expenses, water purification is expected to cost $406,400; distribution and administrative $253,900; and general costs $433,500.
"Frankly, our biggest problem with both sewer and water is the old pipes under the ground," said Ericsson. "We know that we are not discharging any sewage from the pipes, but we also understand that sometimes there is groundwater seeping into the pipes; thus, we are treating water along with sewage.
``As for water, Madison has good quality water, but it takes on impurities when it flows through the old pipes," he said. "We are able to insert new liners in some sewage pipes to correct the problem, but it isn't possible to do the same with water distribution lines. We are in good shape updating both the sewer and water facilities, but we are still lacking the funds to replace the old pipes underground.
``That's where the second-penny sales tax comes in," Ericsson said. "We can use those funds in a long-range plan to replace piping underground. It will take time -- it took years for those pipes to disintegrate -- but in the long run, we will someday have adequate facilities underground for both sewer and water."
Some people were hopeful that Madison's water problems would be fixed by participation in the Lewis & Clark Regional Water System. Madison has paid for its share of the project, but is still a long way from getting water from Lewis & Clark.
"Nine communities, including ours, are still not hooked up," said Ericsson. "If the money all 20 members of Lewis & Clark paid had been used to put pipe underground, the system would be able to deliver water. But it wouldn't have had enough money to build the treatment plant. As it was, the treatment plant was built first and then there was only money enough to install piping to 11 members."
Madison's share of Lewis & Clark was $1.6 million.
"Even if we found some way to get water delivered to us from Lewis & Clark, like utilizing distribution facilities of the Big Sioux Rural Water System, it still wouldn't solve our problem of having to run the water through our antiquated distribution system."
Ericsson addressed a public notice that has been included in bills sent to city water users, which said: "Madison exceeds disinfection by-products standards for drinking water." Ericsson said routine inspections are made at a location the farthest from the water treatment plant.
"While it certainly is not an emergency -- our water is safe to drink -- it nonetheless fails to meet strict governmental guidelines," he said. "The water leaving the treatment plant would exceed those standards, but once they flow through our pipes underground, they pick up impurities that put us over the limit.
``The new water treatment plant will be a big help, and once we replace distribution pipes underground, the problem will be completely solved," he said. "Unfortunately, it will take time and money. It isn't an easy or quick fix available to us."
Few topics generate more complaints or occupy as much of the city commissioners' time than sidewalks.
Sidewalks have been a hot topic in the community since the early 1960s, when then-City Commissioner Walter Michaelson took it upon himself to walk every street in the city. Armed with a yellow legal pad and pencil, Michaelson took note of not only which city sidewalks might need repair but also areas where there were no sidewalks.
Commissioners took note of Michaelson's findings and found that most sidewalks then appeared adequate, but there were many areas that didn't have sidewalks. It seemed innocent enough; just notify those property owners where there were no sidewalks and ask them to put them in.
The request hit a nerve. Telephone calls were made to City Hall and for several weeks the commission room was filled with residents questioning the need for more sidewalks, especially on their property.
"We've never had them, so why put them in now?" "You'll have to cut down my trees." "Heck, most people walk in the street anyway."
Michaelson wasn't to be deterred. He got support from some of his fellow commissioners and the board decided to proceed to see if Madison could become a city with sidewalks. Some were built. Some neighborhoods that didn't have any sidewalks got together and agreed to share the cost of a sidewalk on one side of the street only. Some others reluctantly installed sidewalks. In a couple of instances, the sidewalks were split with half the walkway going around either side of a tree that remained in place.
Commissioners paid close attention to the progress, making sure sidewalks were put in around schools, the hospital, etc. It seemed for a time that the situation might resolve itself, but the complaints continued as each new property owner was advised to install or repair their sidewalk.
The issue has come up a half-dozen times since then, as new commissioners came on board and decided that for Madison to become an up-and-coming community, it had to have sidewalks. Every time, property owners voiced their opposition.
The latest opposition to installing sidewalks occurred in January of this year, when a delegation of property owners along S.W. 1st St. questioned the need for sidewalks in their area. Commissioners took their objections under advisement but decided to include the area in this year's sidewalk project plans.
Many years ago, the City Commission passed an ordinance which stated that any new home or business being built within the city limits had to have sidewalks.
Contractors, with little choice in the matter, complied. Soon it became apparent that some sidewalks went nowhere. A few homes might have sidewalks, then for a block or so, none...only to continue again several homes down the street. Again efforts resurfaced to force property owners who didn't have sidewalks to put them in.
After a flood buyout program in which several acres of land were deeded over to the city, the city itself found putting sidewalks around city-owned property was time-consuming and costly.
Because of federal legislation dealing with disabilities, the city makes changes to sidewalks on corners to make them handicap-accessible. City Engineer Chad Comes said that could cost the city from $700 to $1,200 for each of the four quadrants of each intersection.
Most recently, commissioners appointed a civilian sidewalk committee to aid in fulfilling the mission of having sidewalks installed. Members of the committee are Mayor Roy Lindsay, Arnold Baltzer, Anita Wiedaman, Jeff Lechner and Sharon Knapp.
Madison is currently in the fourth year of a sidewalk inspection program in which sidewalks are being surveyed to make sure they don't have any defects, such as raised sections, which could result in lawsuits or a fall and injury to a pedestrian. That program was spread around town, with first priority given to sidewalks in high-traffic areas.
Commissioners receive complaints from residents who came home to find sidewalks with spray-painted marks and a notice to fix the problem.
Comes said it might take another 10 to 15 years, "but it has been stated by the sidewalk committee and the City Commission that they wish to continue with the goals and priorities discussed in the 1990s of eventually having sidewalks all over town."
This year, the city has budgeted $35,000 to continue making improvements to comply with Americans with Disability Act (ADA) standards and put another $19,000 toward inspection program repairs.
According to the 2013 city budget, the city-run recycling center is projected to lose money this year. $137,442 is budgeted for the recycling center, but anticipated revenue is only $109,800, showing the recycling center is scheduled to lose $27,642.
"It is because the money we receive from recycled materials has dropped significantly," said Public Works Director Fred Snoderly. "But, it should be pointed out that we have made money five out of the past six years."
Recycling is a trend that gained momentum several years ago. Proponents point out that by reusing and recycling materials, less trash ends up in landfills. While Madison's recycling center might run in the red until prices paid for recycling materials go up, there are other benefits.
Snoderly said an agreement with ECCO gives employment to several people. Only two city employees, who regularly have other duties, work occasionally at the center to bundle and load materials being sold. Personnel costs are placed at $51,200. The recycling center accounts for less than one percent of the total city budget.
The Restricted-Use Site and municipal garbage collection account for another 1 percent of the budget. In 2013, the solid waste budget is $189,672, while income from the city's collection of garbage is expected to put $215,100 into city coffers -- a net gain of $25,428.
Approximately 1,246 people receive garbage collection service from the city -- about half the households and businesses within the city limits.
A change was put in place this year taking city garbage to Brookings instead of Sioux Falls. The change occurred, according to Snoderly, because of increased recycling goals set by Sioux Falls. The recycling goal is set each year and is based on the weight of solid waste taken to their landfill. Restrictions were placed on what type of garbage could be dropped off at the Sioux Falls landfill.
"There is a fine schedule for not meeting the recycling goal each year that has continuing to use the Sioux Falls site impossible," Snoderly said. "While it costs some $4 more per ton this year to haul our garbage to Brookings, in reality, over time it will save the city money. The city of Brookings has no recycling goals. Besides that, the Brookings garbage dropoff site is a mile or two shorter for us."
Madison no longer maintains a landfill for garbage, but two sites do exist. The former city landfill located west of town is used for the disposal of building materials and other rubble. Another site southeast of town is available for citizens to dump leaves, grass and trees.
Madison recently discontinued picking up yard waste because only about 30 homeowners were using the service.
The landfill or restricted-use budget is projected to cost $29,306 this year, down substantially from a high of $114,300 just four years ago. In 2010, the city operated its own landfill, accounting for the drop in the budget figures. Today, the cost of taking garbage to Brookings is estimated to be $57,172.