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Meeting to focus on ditch project

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GREENFIELD — The $10 million price tag to fix downtown Greenfield’s flooding problem will be the main point of discussion at a special meeting of the Greenfield City Council Saturday.

The city council will have a public workshop 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday to discuss financing options for the Potts Ditch project, which could include a rate increase for Greenfield Utilities customers.

Potts Ditch, an open ditch and underground tunnel built a century ago to route a watershed through the city, has been flooding for decades during heavy rainfall. The best solution to the problem, city officials say, is rerouting and rebuilding the tunnel entirely. But with an estimated cost just shy of $10 million, the big question now is how to pay for it.

Buzz Krohn, Greenfield’s contracted utility controller, said the city would have to issue a bond for the project, and the money would be repaid from a variety of sources.

Whereas state law requires voters to approve bonds over $2 million if they are funded with property taxes, Krohn said a utility-funded bond would work differently.

The city’s storm sewer account is set up for Greenfield Utilities customers to pay into monthly from their utility bills. Krohn said that account may be tapped, and customers may see some sort of increase in rates.

The potential increase, he said, will be discussed at Saturday’s meeting. As of Monday afternoon, Krohn hadn’t calculated a proposed increase.

Money from the city’s Tax Increment Finance district could also be tapped for the project. The TIF district is a commercial area around Interstate 70, and property taxes captured in the district are designed to be used on projects that would benefit the district. Over the years, several roadwork projects, including roundabouts, have been partially funded with TIF money.

Mike Fruth, Greenfield utility director, said much of the water that causes flooding in Potts Ditch comes from north of CR 300N and flows directly through the city’s TIF district. That water would be rerouted in the proposed project, Fruth said.

“Bottom line is, there’s no easy and inexpensive way to address it,” Fruth said. “But we’re trying to find the most cost-effective means or solutions to find a way to deal with the water.”

Krohn said he is also working on various ways to get a good interest rate on a bond. That will also be discussed at Saturday’s meeting.

Mayor Dick Pasco said the meeting is informational for city council members, who will ultimately be responsible for approving the financing for the project. He also has invited members of the Greenfield Board of Works to attend; the board approves contracts for the project.

Pasco said he wishes the public would be able to vote on the bond issue, but there is no election scheduled for this year and he doesn’t want the project delayed further.

A big question that will be discussed Saturday, Pasco added, is how many years it will take to repay the bond. That ties directly to how the city will find money and how much of a rate increase customers could see.

“I’m always the kind of guy who would want to borrow for the shortest term possible, but with the rates being so low and if it would benefit the taxpayers, I’d be willing to do a 30-year bond,” Pasco said.

While Potts Ditch has been flooding for years, city officials have only recently taken significant steps to address it. Last summer, officials saw an engineer’s study that presented several options for fixing the problem. The city’s engineering office narrowed the options to one: reconstructing the tunnel along Grant, East, North and Spring streets. The current ditch would be abandoned.

There was no movement on the issue until last month, when the Greenfield Board of Works agreed to allow city engineer Karla Vincent to seek qualifications from engineering firms to give more detailed plans.

Once the city chooses an engineering firm, more details will be given on building a new tunnel, relocating utility lines and rebuilding roads throughout the project.

Vincent said last month that it will be at least 2014 before ground is broken on the project because of all of the planning and utility relocations that would have to take place.

Even though it’s still more than a year away, city council President John Patton said he’s glad plans are coming to fruition. He’s looking forward to Saturday’s meeting especially, because city officials haven’t yet had a frank discussion about how to pay for the project.

Patton hopes the state of the economy will benefit the city, as contractors may still be hungry for work and could competitively bid on the project for less than $10 million.

“I’m very pleased it’s moving forward, and I think … we’re going to have to face it at some point in time, and this is a good time to get contractors at lower prices and to be able to finance bonds at lower rates,” he said.

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