A venture to this state park is on the must-do list for many, the park being the only spot in North America where you can dig for diamonds and other gemstones and keep your finds.
The stock market's down and gasoline is up and it's pay, pay, pay, more, more, more, from the grocery store to the hardware store. More suffering is predicted: higher utility bills in the fall.
On top of all this hardship is a new indignity: It's even going to cost more to flush the toilet.
How much more has been the subject of an under-the-radar discussion at Little Rock Wastewater for the past three months, in a back and forth between consultants hired to examine the utility's rate structure and a citizen Rate Advisory Committee. There, the sludge has hit the fan over the subject of sewer impact fees, dirty words among the mighty in Little Rock.
The 18-person advisory committee includes real estate developers, home builders, industry and chamber of commerce representatives … and Jim Lynch, the biosolid in the anti-impact-fee crowd's punchbowl.
What the citizen's committee — which is really a political thermometer — is hearing from Wastewater staff is that the nearly 40 percent rate hike the city agreed to in 2006 isn't going to produce enough revenues to pay for what it was supposed to pay for. That the wastewater utility's fiscal year 2009 revenues of $40 million could fall as much as $8 million short if project schedules aren't altered, according to rough estimates by Raftelis Financial Consultants. That the Little Maumelle Treatment plant, at one point estimated to cost $32 million to build, will really cost closer $50 million, a rise the utility blames on $12 million in modifications demanded by the city and rising material and fuel costs. (The whole project, including road, pump station modifications and line work, is now at $80 million — $9 million more than the revenue bonds floated to pay for it.)
Wastewater is also under federal court order — the result of a settlement of a suit against it by the Sierra Club — to speed up planned upgrades at the Adams Field and the Fourche Creek treatment plants, build a $30 million facility to handle sewer overflows and rehabilitate infrastructure. At the direction of the city, it's been extending service to unsewered areas, a $10 million project.
The Sanitary Sewer Committee, which calls the shots at Wastewater, has been wondering aloud if it's going to have to return to the city, hat in hand, to ask for yet another rate increase.
But Mayor Mark Stodola says he's not interested in asking residents, whose average bill will be $30 a month in 2010, when the stepped-in rate hike will be complete, to pay more. That was Stodola's message to Wasterwater Utility CEO Reggie Corbitt at a meeting Corbitt asked for a couple of weeks ago.
Corbitt told the city board of directors at a June agenda meeting that Wastewater will delay some projects so the Little Maumelle plant can be finished with available funds.
It was Stodola who, at the request of the Coalition of Little Rock Neighborhoods, asked the utility to hire a consultant to examine impact fees — an amount typically charged on new construction to offset the new demand it creates for city services, including sewers. The coalition has been pressing for the one-time fees to pay for city growth since the late 1980s, when the 4,000 acres of Chenal began to be annexed into the city.
The Little Maumelle plant, according to the utility's 2008 budget, is being built to handle current and future needs in the Little Maumelle drainage. Its capacity makes possible the addition of 15,000 residents to West Little Rock. In 2025, it will need to be enlarged — as it's designed to do — at a cost of many millions of dollars to serve future growth.