In April 2016, the city of Orem’s director of Public Works, Chris Tschirki, and his team presented a 10-year utility master plan. On Tuesday, already halfway through the plan, the city council reconvened to assess the its progress.
Bowen Collins Associates’ Keith Larson — who consults on the master plan — said there have been many challenges over the past five years.
Some of these challenges included necessary changes and cost increases, which Tschirki noted were not expected, especially the rapid increase in construction costs.
“From 2010 to 2013, there was a 6% increase in construction costs over the three years,” Tschirki said. “From 2014 to 2017, it was 11% over those three years. And from 2017 to 2020, it was a 15% increase.”
Tschirki said as the council looks at the water, sewer and wastewater plans, there needs to be a course correction.
Councilwoman Debby Lauret asked if it would not be more conservative to bond now for the infrastructure projects and get much-needed projects done. In 2016, in response to calls from constituents, the council voted to do a pay-as-you-go plan rather than bond; Lauret sat on the council and played an integral part in that decision.
“With escalating costs, and an unprecedented low interest rate for bonds (2% or less), bonding for infrastructure projects may just be the way to go,” Tschirki said, agreeing with Lauret.
Some of those much-needed projects include a new storage reservoir, which would allow Orem to provide more of its own water rather than continue to receive water through the Central Utah Water Conservancy District.
Before Orem can do so, however, the city needs additional well capacity, and it must meet state regulations at the wastewater treatment plant.
“We are very close to these project realizations,” Larson said.
Additionally, city officials did not anticipate the abandonment of irrigation canals over the past few years.
“Canal abandonments was a big curve ball,” Tischirki said. “State Street nodes was not in the master plan either. We have to readdress the impact of that.”
The State Street nodes or districts was passed a few years ago, creating various business growth areas and multi-family unit housing. An arts district also is included along State Street.
Tschirki said one good thing is that Orem is no longer providing wholesale water to Vineyard.
During the meeting, the council was presented with actions it could take to successfully meet the goals established in the 10-year plan.
“We are very deficient in our water storage,” Tschirki said. “We’ve been borrowing from the water conservancy district.”
According to Larson, $7.2 million is needed to keep the water system at current levels each year. That does not include major infrastructure improvements. The city historically spends just under $2 million.
In order to get back on track, rates will most likely have to increase, but the city is working to make sure the taxpayer — particularly fixed-income residents — don’t get hit with a bill they can’t pay.
Even with rate increases, Orem has the second-lowest rates of any city in a 24-city comparison, Tschirki said.
“For many years, our rates have been artificially low,” said City Manager Jamie Davidson.
The city council will be presented with the adjustments as well as a list of priority projects that need to be completed before it will be expected to vote on the matter this fall.