Rathdrum officials are asking a judge - instead of voters - to approve a $500,000 bond to build a new water reservoir.
Public works director Bob Lloyd said the city’s 55-year-old concrete tank on Reservoir Road, north of the city, is too small.
“Last summer, there were times when that tank was only down to two or three feet of water,” he said. “If we’d have had a fire, we’d have run out.”
The old reservoir holds 285,000 gallons of water. The city wants to build a new tank holding at least 500,000 gallons.
“To me, it’s an emergency situation,” said Rathdrum Mayor Tawnda Bromley. “We’ve got lots of water, just no place to put it.”
In the past few years, Rathdrum has grown rapidly. Large new subdivisions sprang up on the prairie, increasing the city’s thirst for water.
On May 9, Rathdrum officials will take their case before First District Court Judge Gary Haman, asking him to allow the city to sell $500,000 in bonds to pay for the project. The bonds would be paid back over 15 years with a share of residents’ monthly water fees.
Normally, cities seek such approval from taxpayers, who ultimately will pay the bill. But Bromley said the so-called “judicial validation” process was quicker. This way, she said, the city can get a new reservoir built by July, the start of the heavy lawn-watering season.
The city’s decision to seek judicial validation concerns some residents.
“I think that’s underhanded,” said former mayoral candidate Sharon Bateman. “We all are intelligent, we are all educated to some degree, we should have a say.”
“Why are they waiting until now if it’s been a problem?”
Realtor Barbara Forgacs said city officials shouldn’t be surprised by growth, because they’re approving the annexations that encourage it.
“When you annex property, aren’t you obligating the city to provide sewer and water service? Well then, why would it be a surprise?” she said.
“The people of Rathdrum, if it (the bond) makes any sense, would not turn it down,” Forgacs said.
Coeur d’Alene tried and failed to win judicial validation of a street bond three years ago. City leaders there asked Judge James Judd to approve Coeur d’Alene’s request to issue $9 million in bonds.
After five months of research, Judd ruled the repairs, while needed, weren’t essential. In that case, the judge ruled, allowing the city to go into debt without taxpayer approval would have side-stepped the state constitution. Voters later approved the bonds.
Rathdrum homeowners now pay $15.25 a month for water, regardless how much is used. If the judge approves the reservoir bond, officials expect that fee to rise $4 to $5 per month.
The reservoir serves about 1,100 homes and businesses, Lloyd said. Over the years, the concrete has cracked and been repaired several times, he said.
The new reservoir will be built of concrete or steel, depending on which is cheaper.
“It should have been done years ago. It was always going to be done next year,” Lloyd said.
“We knew it would have to be done, but we didn’t know that it would have to be done so quickly,” said Bromley, who became mayor last September.
She said the decision to take the bond before a judge had nothing to do with Lakeland School District’s own bond campaign. The school district, based in Rathdrum, is seeking nearly $10 million to build a new school and add classrooms to current schools.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: NEXT MOVE On May 9, Rathdrum officials will ask First District Court Judge Gary Haman to allow the city to sell $500,000 in bonds to pay for the project.