Protest period underway for Lockwood revised sewer project

2014-07-15T17:00:00Z 2014-07-22T17:14:16Z Protest period underway for Lockwood revised sewer projectBy CLAIR JOHNSON cjohnson@
billingsgazette.com
The Billings Gazette

A 30-day protest period is underway for property owners within a proposed revised sewer project in Lockwood.

The Lockwood Water and Sewer District plans to provide residential sewer service to about 650 properties within three subdistricts of a larger district.

The Phase 2 revised sewer project would cost a total of $9.3 million, with about $6.5 million to be assessed on property within the subdistricts.

The district would levy a special assessment in equal amount on each parcel’s tax code within the revised subdistrict boundaries.

The estimated monthly cost is $39.41 per tax code, said Woody Woods, district manager.

“It’s better than what they were going to get charged,” Woods said.

The total principal amount of the assessment is estimated to be $10,124 over a period up to 40 years.

Property owners have until 5 p.m. on July 28 to submit written protests to the district.

To successfully protest the project will require objections from at least 51 percent of the property owners, Woods said.

After the public comment period closes, the district board will hold a public hearing at 7 p.m. on Aug. 13 at the Lockwood School.

The board’s intent is to approve the project after the public hearing, said Carl Peters, board chairman.

Construction would begin next summer.

“We’re very optimistic. This is such a good deal. We’ve got the best numbers we’ve ever had,” Peters said, referring to the financing package.

And, Peters said, the district is going by what the people wanted based on surveys and neighborhood meetings.

The district, so far, has received about five or six protests, Woods said.

This latest plan to provide residents with sewer service comes after voters overwhelmingly rejected Phase 2 plan in 2013.

Had it passed, residents would have been assessed based on the value of their property. Estimates ranged from $598 a year for a home valued at $100,000 to $948 a year for a home valued at $250,000 a year.

The initial Phase 2 plan totaled $12.6 million, with the district funding it through a combination of grants, loans and tax assessments.

After the ballot defeat, the district board re-evaluated the project and hired Beck Consulting of Red Lodge to conduct small neighborhood meetings and survey cards to gauge support for a smaller project.

The study helped identify neighborhoods with the highest support and concluded the public was more in favor of equal assessments on property.

Woods said the district also was able to retain most of the funding aid that had been offered for the larger project. The revised Phase 2 project is about 67 percent of the size of original plan.

About 30 percent of the revised project would be funded with $2.88 million in grants, including $1.8 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development, $750,000 from the state’s Treasure State Endowment Program, $159,000 from Yellowstone County and $100,000 from the state’s Department of Natural Resources and Conservation.

Although the project is 67 percent of the original plan, the USDA only reduced its original grant of about $2 million by about $171,000, Peters said.

The district also would borrow $6.5 million, with $3 million at about 2.75 percent over 40 years from the USDA and $3.5 million at 3 percent over 30 years from the state’s revolving fund.

The district has been working for years to bring sewer service to Lockwood residents and businesses.

The area has problems with failing drain fields.

If the project is built, residents will not be required to connect immediately but can connect on an as-needed basis. Drain fields and septic tanks can be left in place.

When property owners do connect, they will be assessed a one-time system development fee, a one-time sewer service fee, construction costs for service lines and monthly user charges in addition to the special assessment.

A $21 million Phase 1 sewer project brought service to about 400 mostly commercial properties along Old Hardin Road, the North Frontage Road and near the Johnson Lane interchange.

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