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HIGH SPRINGS – The city’s wastewater treatment system was a major topic of discussion at Saturday’s High Springs town hall meeting.

According to city officials, High Springs is $8.5 million in debt because of the sewer system, and all four city commissioners listed the sewer as one of their top four priorities for 2012.

Originally approved in 2001, construction on the final stages of the sewer has been delayed due to uncertainty about the return of the $1.6 million from the USDA, according to city officials. Those funds are needed to complete construction, said High Springs City Manager Jeri Langman.

The commission said that the system’s grinder pumps are failing at a rate of four a month to as many as four a week.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do about the grinder pumps,” Mayor Dean Davis said. “They are designed in such a way that you have to buy the parts from the people that you bought them from.”

Langman said the city will be testing two refitted grinder pumps from an Orlando company that rebuilds the pumps and sells them at almost 50 percent of the original cost. These refitted pumps are guaranteed for a year.

According to Davis, the rebuilt grinder pumps the city is currently purchasing cost $1,700. High Springs is in need of 21 new pumps.  According to Vice Mayor Bob Barnas, the city has already replaced 162 pumps.

The city may mail informational brochures about the pumps to educate residents about proper use. Langman said the grinder pumps are running out of their warranties, and fixing the pumps could eventually fall on the homeowners.

“Some issues are the grinder, some things are what you put into the grinder,” she said. Fried foods turn into butter inside the grinders, Langman said.

High Springs is looking into the cause of grinder pump failure to determine if it is because of a system malfunction, such as crushed pipe, by marking the locations of failed grinder pumps on a map. Langman said if the pump failures are centered in one area, it might be a sign of a larger problem than just individual broken pumps or maybe an educational problem in that area.

Davis said the debt on the sewer system is for a period of 40 years. The system currently has 1,069 users

“So, I think we’ve bought a used car that’s going to wear out before we get the debt paid,” he said.

Davis said sewer rates would have to be raised to $75, possibly $100.

“We’re charging $34,” he said. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out where that’s going.”

Commissioner Linda Gestrin said she is worried about the lack of an emergency plan for the sewer. It’s on electricity, she said, and questioned what would happen if the power went out. She would like to see future discussion on the sewer involve an emergency plan.

The commission recently approved paying $29,760 to the engineering firm of Mittauer and Associates, Inc. to conduct a study of the wastewater system to determine the best course of action.

Saturday’s meeting was also an opportunity for the commission to discuss changing the High Springs City Charter.  Since 2001, the charter has been changed three times, Davis said.

“It’s filled with personal opinions,” he said. “The way they wanted it done; and they are no longer here.”

Davis said some people think the charter is fine in its current form.

But Gestrin said laws and regulations have changed in such a way that the current charter has become outdated.

Economic development and future planning topped all of the commissioners’ priorities over the coming year.  Commissioners said they would like to see budget planning for next year start early.

Discussion of the police dispatch service was mentioned briefly, and it was suggested by Barnas that the topic be added as a referendum to a future election ballot.