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Cheney council approves tree trimming contract


Last updated 3/12/2020 at 12:05pm

CHENEY – The City Council authorized a nearly $60,000 contract at its Feb. 25 meeting to keep the city’s trees away from powerlines, but held off on approving a resolution to increase the amount charged to developers on new connections to the water system.

Asplundh Tree Experts were the lowest of three bidders on the city’s line clearance contract, coming in with a weekly rate of $5,872.40, totaling $58,724 for the 10-week project scheduled to run May 1 – July 10. The work will be done on the city’s system only and in conjunction with city standards, which begin by requiring all vegetation be cleared a minimum of three feet from poles in all directions.

The city is responsible for trimming vegetation near medium and high voltage conductors and low voltage (0 – 750 volts) conductors running from pole to pole and from pole to a customer’s weather head. The city also trims vegetation near communications conductors unless they extend from the pole to the customer’s building, which would then fall to the customer.

Vegetation near low voltage and communications conductors must be trimmed a minimum of 3-5 feet from the conductor, with 10 feet required for horizontal and vertical distances from medium and high voltage conductors.

City Administrator Mark Schuller, standing in for Light Department Director Steve Marx, said it had been 2-3 years since the last trimming for the city’s electrical system was performed. It’s also the first time the city has used Asplundh in a number of years for the work, he added.

Council was cautious when it came to making changes to what’s referred to as a “system development charge” — a one-time charge imposed on a development as a condition for it receiving utility services. According to state law, the charge must be based on an “equitable share of the cost of the system” so a jurisdiction can recover impacts to a systems capacity and share costs among all users.

The law also requires the charge be “based on an equitable share of the cost of the system” and be in addition to the cost of the connection itself. It can be used to fund a system’s capital projects or debt service.

Public Works Director Todd Ableman said the system development charge is calculated by dividing the allocable cost of the system by the system’s capacity. The latter is determined by using a system’s “equivalent residential unit” (ERU), which according to Cheney’s water plan is 610 gallons per day.

Spread between source, storage, distribution and general plant capacity, the city has 7,364 ERUs available, with a total water system utility existing cost of $15.1 million. The formula produces a new system development charge of $2,536 for a new single-family residential connection — a significant increase over the existing charge of $843.

The new connection cost increases substantially with larger connections, beginning with a 1-inch connection running $5,760 per meter — compared to the current $1,078 — up to a charge of $115,204 for a 6-inch connection — compared to $4,925. If passed, the resolution updating these charges would add an 8-inch meter connection at $184,326 plus installations costs.

Ableman stressed the proposed changes were for new connections only. Even so, the severity of the price hike was enough to give council pause.

“How can we ensure these are updated regularly so as not to be making such big jumps?” Councilwoman Teresa Overhauser asked.

Ableman said the charges could be evaluated on a project basis, with costs adjusted by a fixed amount or percentage every six years when the city does its water plan review.

“I’m saying we shouldn’t wait every six years, that’s what I’m telling you,” Overhauser said.

Councilman Paul Schmidt said he was comfortable with the process used to develop the charges, and felt they were defendable should the city be challenged legally. He made a motion, however, to defer a decision on the charges to a future council meeting so developers could review the proposals and provide comment.

John McCallum can be reached at


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