Treatment plant may see change
Nevada City is considering contracting out the operation of its wastewater treatment plant, City Manager Mark Miller told the City Council on Monday evening.
The 3,000-person city is just too small to pay highly trained professionals to operate its plant, Miller said.
“(The) staff feels pretty strongly across the board that we need to look at this,” Miller said.
The city would maintain ownership of the plant and set rates, Miller said.
The top prospect for the contract is currently Operations Management International, a Colorado company that operates Auburn’s wastewater plant and all water services in Stockton.
“The concept is not privatization,” Miller said. “(It’s) contracting out staffing of the facility.”
Miller said he did not expect the switch would save money, in fact, it would be more expensive in the short term.
But the switch would ensure the plant remains fully staffed with certified operators, Miller said.
“(When) somebody gets sick or takes a vacation, it’s hard just to cover that position,” Miller said.
The city currently has three wastewater operator positions; two are filled, the other is being temporarily staffed by a contractor, Miller said.
Both employees would be given positions with the private contractor and would probably receive higher salaries, Miller said.
When the city needed to fill two of the positions in late 2003, it sent out 900 notices to qualified candidates and advertised, Miller said. Two qualified applicants applied and both were hired, he said.
“It’s a seller’s market for those who have that qualification,” Miller said.
Wastewater treatment operators in California must take a course, a test and meet entrance requirements to receive certification, which is required in California.
Nevada City currently pays between $33,600 and $42,000 per year, with raises for higher levels of certification, Miller said.
One operator recently left the city to take a job with the Nevada Irrigation District for 40 percent more money, Miller said.
Several residents and council members said they were concerned with the idea of contracting out wastewater services and with the reputation of OMI.
“I don’t want to be associated with (contracting out operations),” Councilman Steve Cottrell said. “We ought to just bite the bullet and hire the best person.”
The city’s sewer rate is currently $33.50 per month, a figure that lies between local extremes of Marysville at $13.04 per month and Nevada County’s Zone 1, which charges $54.17 per month, according to a recent survey by Bartle Wells Associates, a consulting firm.
Even doubling the rate would not provide adequate staffing for the plant, which is in a state of deferred maintenance, Miller said.
Miller said he did not expect the rate to change if the city outsources operations at the plant, but regular increases are planned to keep pace with inflation.
At the request of several council members, Miller said he would return at the next council meeting with more information on the proposal and cost estimates.
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