El Reno expected to re-join COWRA

By Carolyn Cole – Mustang News

Canadian County’s water hunting group is expected to vote in March to re-embrace El Reno into the fold if a down payment is made on the city’s back dues.

El Reno City Manager Tony Rivera asked for his community to pay $6,522.50 for the last quarter of the 2012-2013 fiscal year to again become active members of the Central Oklahoma Water Resources Authority and pro-rate the rest of this year’s cost with the dues the city owes.

“We also feel like we can get an approval from the City Council, certainly to be a fully voting participating member effective now,” Rivera said. “That’s why we came up with the idea of paying for this quarter so we could be active members.”

El Reno was last an active COWRA member in fiscal year 2008-2009. In following the trust’s indenture, District 2 County Commissioner David Anderson said inactive cities would have to pay their delinquent dues for a seat at the table. Last fall, trustees talked about allowing cities to pay out the dues over a three-year period.

El Reno pays $26,090 to participate and owes four years of dues totaling $104,360.

Rivera asked for El Reno to pay a quarter of its annual dues now and then pay $58,702.50 per year for the next three years. That amount includes current dues and payments for the past due balance.

El Reno would be caught up by the end of fiscal year 2015-2016.

Rivera said if he could plan for the additional cost during the annual budget process, El Reno could more easily afford the expense.

Yukon trustee Genie Vinson said she supported the plan, but asked Rivera how the board could trust El Reno to see it through. Rivera said he believes the existing City Council will want to participate, and he expects stability for at least two years.

“There is no doubt the reason why we are in the position we are in is due to some political influence on the decisions that were made by the city,” Rivera said. “That has changed.”

COWRA chairman Richard Riley asked El Reno City Councilman Jim Archer for his position. Archer has attended the last few COWRA meetings and could be appointed to serve as El Reno’s representative.

“I came along to support my manager,” Archer said.

El Reno is in a unique position in its search for future water sources, Rivera said, because his community owns the only water treatment plant in the county. He said El Reno is looking for resources to bolster its drinking water supply and not seeking a main source.

“I don’t think our need even in the future is going to be nearly as critical as the rest of the communities in Canadian County,” Rivera said. “We are in a little bit different situation in my mind and in the minds of a lot of our citizens, so that’s why I think some sides of the community are hesitating.”

COWRA  has hired Guernsey Engineering to conduct a feasibility study for a possible brackish groundwater desalination plant. Rivera said El Reno is interested, but if the plant is built, the costs for construction for cities should take into consideration each community’s expected future consumption from that source.

COWRA’s dues are based on the 2000 Census. Mustang pays $21,170 per year, and Yukon’s dues are $33,870. Canadian County pays $8,120, Okarche, $1,780, and Calumet, $870.

Piedmont also dropped from the group in 2009. The city formerly paid $5,880 per year and would owe $17,640 in back dues in addition to this fiscal year’s commitment to rejoin. No representatives from Piedmont were at the meeting, although Piedmont City Manager Jim Crosby has attended recently.

Union City last participated  in 2007, and formerly paid $1,000 per year. Mayor TJ McCullough attended the February meeting.

Okarche Mayor Richard Raupe made a motion to accept the agreement and offer membership to El Reno as part of new business, which was quickly seconded by Anderson. Having El Reno back on board as COWRA moves forward with the desalination plant will be an asset in working with lawmakers, the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and the Oklahoma Water Resources Board, Anderson said.

“I do think that having a countywide consortium of members gives COWRA credibility,” he said.

District 3 County Commissioner Jack Stewart put on the brakes with concerns about taking such an important step as part of new business. COWRA’s attorney Mike Segler was absent from the meeting.

“I think they have stepped up to try and figure out a way that best suits their needs and ours,” Raupe said.

Riley asked to put the agreement on the March agenda and take a vote then. COWRA will meet at noon March 15 at Mustang Town Center.

“All I can say to you buddy is welcome home,” Riley said.

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