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A new year has begun

Jack Balshaw 1/2/02

We've come to that time again when an old year is over and a new year has just begun. Even though time flows in a continuous stream there is a human need to define boundaries in time so events may be sorted into little packets, packets beginning with each January and ending with each December.

The accepted ways to handle these packets is by either recapping what happened last year or speculating on the coming year. While the last year has been more than notable by the scale and significance of events, those events are now old news and the happenings of the present year, while hopefully not as traumatic, will unfold in ways that will be interesting.

Locally, there are two main financial and political issues; money to build, rebuild and improve infrastructure and the nature and amount of future growth in Petaluma. Three of the main money issues are associated with handling of water. The fourth is street repairs. The City plans to construct a totally new system for processing wastewater, replace the old pipes which carry storm water on the west side, and begin the enlargement of the county's drinking water delivery system.

The city council's selection of which wastewater system to implement will determine how much will be charged on our monthly water bill to pay for that system. This selection will be made separately from the storm drain and drinking water systems. These will also be part of the monthly bill, but by addressing them separately, the total impact won't be evident until the final fee is established.

The storm drain system, especially the old system on the west side, has cracks and leaks which allow rainwater to enter the pipes. This causes undesirable flow into the wastewater treatment process. To fix these pipes is estimated to cost over $30 million. This cost plus any interest from borrowing will also be added to the present monthly water bill.

The upgrade of the county's drinking water system will be implemented during the next several years and Petaluma will have to pay its fair share for the upgrade in addition to the cost of water. This could be a substantial addition to present monthly costs.

The fourth money issue locally will be the request for a citywide bond issue to provide funds to repair our streets. To do the whole job, this bond issue should be greater than the combined total of the costs to construct the three water related improvements. This number may be so frightening however that the City Council will suggest only a modest, partial fix.

The other main political action scheduled for this year is the development of an updated General Plan. This new plan will have to thread its way between the general public's desire to halt growth and the realistic requirement to somehow provide for the inevitable growth that will happen no matter what we say. This could be a non-event this year if the City Council manages to delay or postpone any action on the final plan until after the election in November of 2002.

What will be interesting in any event will be the manner by which the City Council establishes the numbers needed to design the wastewater treatment facility and provide for future water delivery needs. We have seen in the past that the scheduled update of the General Plan has been an excuse to not make decisions until after the plan is complete. This time, the number of people to be served by the water systems must be provided before the City Council determines what the future population will be.

A similar problem exists with providing the money to pay for street repairs and also the improvements that will have to be added to handle not only the present number of vehicles, but also the number that will be on the streets in the future.

However the numbers are determined will result in some fancy footwork.

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