Council workshop Monday

The Big Spring City Council will begin holding its annual budget work sessions Monday evening, as the government panel looks to solidify its fiscal plans for 2011-2012.While budget sessions have traditionally been a time for council members to pitch their pet projects for the coming year, a lack of revenue — due in large part to the ongoing drought and lack of water sales — will most likely keep such plans on the back burner going into the next fiscal year.The scarcity of funds hasn’t stopped the number of essential projects from building up, however, as the city officials continue to stare down the eventual closing of the municipal landfill, along with water line replacement efforts and a sludge removal system for the city’s water treatment facility.During a recent budget workshop, the council looked at three options: Get out of the landfill business altogether and leave sanitation up to a contractor; build a transfer station to ship garbage to a neighboring city, such as Snyder; or build a new landfill facility at a new location.According to city officials, getting out of the landfill business and turning trash collection over to a private contractor simply isn’t viable at this time.“City sanitation rates would double,” City Manager Gary Fuqua told the council. “That option simply isn’t viable, which is why we concentrated our efforts on the other two options.”A new landfill would take approximately five years to receive state permits and cost nearly $2.4 million, with a construction time of around two years, according to Holly Holder, a firm principal with Parkhill Smith & Cooper. The annual cost to run the facility, which would include one initial cell, would be about $1.8 million.According to engineer estimations, the existing landfill has a little more than six years left before it is at capacity.While the council ponders the fate of the municipal landfill, they will also have to look at proposed efforts to replace water lines on Third and Fourth streets ahead of an ongoing TxDOT program to do a full-depth reconstruction of the thoroughfares.PS&C engineer Butch Davis said the project will cost the city approximately $1.07 million under the best circumstances, and nearly double — $1.87 million — in the worst case scenario. Fuqua said the city currently has approximately $1 million it can allocate to the project, but anything more than that is going to be a major budgetary challenge.The council has also discussed a sludge removal system for the city’s water treatment facility. Davis said the city’s existing water system removes sludge — largely dirt and other unwanted elements — through a sedimentary process utilizing large water basins.However, the sludge that collects at the bottom of the basins over time can cause problems with the water’s turbidity, causing it to rise above state standards, a problem the city was forced to deal with last year when a large influx of golden algae caused turbidity levels to rise sharply.The council will have to decide between two different methods of sludge removal, including a belt press which basically wrings the water out of the sediment like an old wringer washing machine, or a centrifuge method that separates the water from the sediment through centrifugal force.Davis said a belt press would cost the city approximately $1.35 million, while the centrifuge system would cost approximately $1.48 million.Assistant City Manager Todd Darden said the centrifuge method offers a wider range of variability in how and when it is used, while the belt press requires a lot more maintenance and oversight by operators.Each night during the week has been set aside for budget work sessions beginning at 5:30 p.m. in the city council chambers, located at 307 E. Fourth St. Fuqua said he hopes to have the presentation completed Tuesday, but has set Wednesday — along with the rest of the week — aside, if needed. For more information, call 264-2401.