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Cotter Mayor Mac Caradine and Gassville Mayor Jeff Braim are asking local residents in their respective cities to vote yes on their city’s ballot measure to raise the funding needed to complete a joint sewer and water project.
The project, which began in 2018, is set to finish the replacement of lengthy portions of the city’s jointly owned sewer pipeline along the Cotter walking trail and Lithia Creek, as well as the construction of two new sewer lift stations that will pump sewage over major hill lines along the trail.
Inflation has raised the total cost of the sewer project from $2.17 million to $4,366,000 over the last four years.
“In 2019, when we started this quest to improve the sewer line along the walking trail and up the hill to where it connects to the old wet well, we had already replaced [a portion] of the line in 2018,” said Mayor Caradine in an interview with the Observer.
“What we’re calling the second phase, started in 2019 and we had gotten a loan commitment from USDA. That was the original cost in 2019. Four years later, after going through design, permits, easements, COVID, inflation, and even a stay by archaeological to see if there’s any artifact back in the summer, the $2.16 went up to $4.3 million.”
If Cotter votes to approve their ballot measure, then the city will be allowed to take out a subsequent $2,196,000 loan to finish the project.
If Gassville voters approve their measure, then the city will implement a new 0.5% local sales tax to pay for its portion of the project, as well as future water and sewer expenses.
“I would stress with the sales tax, and I’ve told this to our city council and everybody that’s come to our meetings since we started looking at this. With a sales tax, we have out-of-towners that would stay here and help pay for it, just besides our locals. We see about 115,000 vehicles come through Gassville every week. I’m not saying every vehicle stops, but a lot of people coming through get gas and stop at a restaurant. That’s going to help,” said Mayor Braim.
Based on population size, Gassville will cover 66% of the bill, with Cotter paying for the remaining 34%.
Cotter residents recently approved to continue their 1% sales tax in 2022. While the sales tax funds are going towards the project, state law requires that the city return to voters for approval on the city’s requested loan increase from USDA. The city is not requesting an increase in its sales tax. It is only requesting permission to increase the loan it received from USDA to cover the costs of finishing the project.
The interest rate of the increased loan is set to be 2.25%, a relatively lower rate in a high-interest market.
If the measures are not approved, then local voters can expect to pay higher water and sewer rates going forward, with Cotter’s rates nearly doubling. Mayor Braim said he is unsure how much rates would have to be raised if the new sales tax fails to pass.
Both cities are required under Act 605 of Arkansas Law to find ways to pay for the operation, maintenance, upgrades, and financing expenses of their water/sewer projects.
So, what’s getting upgraded?
To start, large sections of the metal above-ground sewer pipe along the Cotter Walking Trail and underneath the U.S. Highway 62 bridge are being replaced. The sewer line, which was laid out nearly 40 years ago, has rotted away over the years due to stagnant sewage left within the pipe. Lengthy portions of the sewer lines underground section are also set to be replaced with PVC pipes.
Work crews are already replacing the remaining metal pipeline sections along the Cotter Walking Trail. Residents are asked to look out for work crews if driving down Denton Ferry Road.
While much of the Cotter/Gassville sewage line is gravity-fed, the portion starting from the water well along Lithia Creek required a pump to move sewage through it. That pump went down some 20 years ago, requiring works crews in Cotter to go up to the site every week for over two decades and manually pump sewage through the pipeline.
That portion of the pipeline is now set to become a gravity-fed line, which will lead into one of two new pump stations that are also being built along Denton Ferry Road.
Construction of Lift Station Number 2 has already begun across the road from the end of the walking trail on Denton Ferry Road. Lift Station Number 1 is set to begin in the coming weeks and months.
Each lift station will host a pump to push sewage over the hills along the pipeline. The remaining portion of the pipeline, which leads to the Cotter/Gassville Sewage Plant will be gravity-fed. Each station pump is expected to last for a decade or more before it needs replacing.
New manholes are expected to be added to the road behind the shopping center on Ryan Road. The new manholes are a requirement from the health department.