Council approves purchase of maintenance equipment, before state grant expires

May 2, 2013

By Christina Corrales-Toy

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With just a few months before a state Department of Ecology grant expires, the Newcastle City Council authorized the Public Works Department to use the funds to purchase a $100,000 piece of equipment that will benefit the city’s storm water management.

The trailer-mounted hydro-excavator will be used for quick response to spills and storm pipe cleaning, though Public Works Director Mark Rigos admitted he was not sure how often the city would use it.

“Honestly, I look at this as kind of a nice-to-have, not a requirement,” he said. “I do have some concerns on how much, honestly, we’re going to use this equipment. If this was solely coming out of Newcastle coffers, I would not bring this to you.”

Rigos said the equipment would allow for quick responses to hazardous spills, such as paint spills, and help keep the catch basins around the city clean. He estimated the city would use the hydro-excavator two or three times a year for spills and about 10 to 15 times a year to jet wash catch basins.

In 2010, the city received a Department of Ecology grant for more than $96,000. In 2012, the city was awarded an additional $50,000. The grant is set to expire at the end of June. City Manager Rob Wyman warned the council that failure to use it would limit the city’s ability to secure future awards.

“We applied for the grant to acquire equipment to help us with our storm water program,” he said. “For us to go back to Ecology and say ‘We don’t need the money,’ we do damage our credibility in future applications for grants.”

Questions about the extent of the equipment’s usage, and the fact that there was little time to consider alternatives before the grant expired, concerned some of the council members.

“This one is really troublesome to me,” Councilman Bill Erxleben said. “We’re coming up to a deadline date to spend some money, and so the maintenance folks have come up with a toy that they think would be helpful.”

Erxleben and Councilman Gordon Bisset suggested the city partner with the Coal Creek Utility District to perform some of the same duties the new equipment is expected to perform. The district is not sufficiently staffed, however, to manage the city’s 2,000 catch basins, Wyman said.

The City Council ultimately approved the purchase, 4-3, at the April 15 meeting, but members were generally dissatisfied with how the grant money was handled. Council members Carol Simpson, Bisset and Erxleben dissented.

“It’s not an ideal model of efficiency in government, but I appreciate the risk of not taking and using the grant money,” Deputy Mayor Lisa Jensen said. “I think once we have equipment like that in-house, you will probably find more uses for it.”

Wyman acknowledged that the grant money could have been managed better.

“We have backed you into a corner a little bit here by bringing this to you so late and not having other options,” he said.

Mayor Rich Crispo supported the purchase, but noted that it was more of a vote of confidence for Rigos than anything.

“I’m also going to support this, but I don’t like the way this was done,” he said. “If he tells me that he checked this out and he believes this is of value, I accept that position.”

Bisset questioned the initial logic of securing the grant without a firm plan for its dispersal.

“The question is why did we ask for the grant in the first place if we weren’t darn sure what the heck we were going to use it for?” he asked.

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