By Athena Cao
Lexington taxpayers could face steep increases in taxes and utility fees if the city council passes the $14 million Capital Improvements Plan.
Only a week after the school board presented an $11.6 million proposal to rebuild Waddell Elementary School and construct an adjoining community center, the city council held a work session to discuss another aspect of the Capital Improvements Plan: a $1.1 million program to improve the stormwater, water and sewer systems over the next five years.
Council Member Camille Miller said the utility improvements are urgent.
“We’ve got a lot of failing infrastructure and if we don’t start paying into it now, we are guaranteed that we are going to have a beautiful school with kids who can’t get running water in their house,” Miller said.
City Manager Jon Ellestad told the council last Thursday that funding the plan would be tough for taxpayers.
“At the time the budget is presented, how much appetite are you going to have to hit taxpayers with a double-digit tax increase and a double-digit utility increase in the same year?” he said.
The $14 million Capital Improvements Plan consists of 22 projects that focus on improving and maintaining city necessities such as cemeteries and playgrounds over the next five years. But the two main components of the plan are the construction at Waddell and the utility system improvements.
Public Works Director Mike Kennedy said the stormwater, water line and sewer problems are “the most urgent and influential.” Some residents have suffered from two sewer backups in the past year.
Waddell guidance counselor Kristin Bailey and her three children live on Whitmore Street. Bailey said she was doing laundry when the sewer backed up last December.
“I just felt like I was hearing the water still running,” Bailey said. “It was raw sewage spewing out of the washing machine—like a creek.”
Two houses away, Alessandra Dickovick said she had a nightmare of the sewage flowing from Bailey’s house into her own.
If the Capital Improvements Plan passes as is, the city will spend an estimated $157,000 to replace the sewer lines on Whitmore and Marshall streets, $390,000 to replace the city’s 80-year-old water lines, and $395,000 to reduce unwanted infiltration and inflow into city sewer pipes.
Ellestad suggested hiring an engineer to focus solely on the water, stormwater and sewer problems in the city. If there is sufficient funding for the position, Lexington might have another full-time engineer before July.
How much utility fees and taxes could increase with the approval of these projects is unclear. But the council will hold a public hearing and vote on the Capital Improvements Plan on Feb. 20 or at the following council meeting on March 6.
Miller said it is time for the council to take action.
“There is no happiness about this at all, but there is a reality of what we have to do for the long-term health of the city,” Miller said. “This council is going to have to make some hard decisions that should have been made in the past.”
To see the Capital Improvements Plan in its entirety, click here.