Three councilors voted to delay approving two infrastructure projects at today’s Raleigh City Council meeting. Russ Stephenson (At-large), who led the effort to delay the projects, argued that growth and city income are slowing and the water infrastructure projects should wait to save money in the current recession.
Roger Koopman (District B) and Thomas Crowder (District D) joined Stephenson in the debate with Mayor Charles Meeker and City Manager Russell Allen. The debate came down to two questions; If the city doesn’t go ahead with theses projects, will Raleigh have enough capacity to handle growth? Or, are these expenses necessary right now as growth slows due to the economic downturn?
With Philip Eisley (District E) absent, the three votes were enough to bump the projects to the next meeting.
The first project in question is to design an expansion at the Neuse River Waste Water Treatment Plant. The issue before council would allocate $3.4 million for the design to add another 15-million gallons a day to the plant’s capacity. The second issue is for a water line for the Southeastern Raleigh water reuse line. The $1.1-million water line is already designed and the city has received bids for the project.
Meeker said he was concerned about not having enough drinking water capacity as the city grows. Both Crowder and Stephenson argued that the city should focus on conservation and saving money as the city is drafting a balanced budget for the next fiscal year.
“We need to be looking at other ways to conserve water and reduce capacity,” Crowder said. He said he supported moving forward with designing the wastewater treatment plant expansion, but still voted against it.
Meeker started today’s meeting by saying, “This council’s policy has always been to not have a tax increase during a recession.” Crowder later countered the tax increase comment by saying the proposed 15-percent water-rate increase is a tax.
Allen said funding for the projects are on hand and most of the money came from usage fees. “I urge you to go ahead with design projects,” Allen said, referring to the Neuse River Wastewater Treatment Plant project. The plant expansion will have to go before council again before construction. Allen said, “the real cost will come with construction.”
The subtext for the debate was creating a balanced budget for the next fiscal year. The city manager is expected to deliver a draft budget to council in May. Meeker told the council that this will not be a year for starting new initiatives, they may even need to consider dropping some city-led initiatives. Councilors plan to meet with the city manager before the draft budget comes out to see how the budget may need to be cut to keep it balanced in the year to come.