Sherman and Howe are looking for ways to work resolve nearly $384,000 of outstanding debt for sewage treatment services.
Representatives for the city of Sherman said this week that Howe owes Sherman for treatment of sewage. The outstanding amount from the past 15 months has not been paid off.
"For the past 52 years, the city of Sherman has treated sewage for the city of Howe and over the years the city of Howe’s system has become increasingly infiltrated by storm water," Sherman Community and Support Services Manager Nate Strauch said.
While Howe has made payments during this time, there has still been outstanding debt.
"Instead of keeping current, they have just been paying a certain amount each month that may or may not cover the entirety of their bill," Strauch said.
Strauch said that the payments are calculated based on what is taken in to Sherman’s treatment plant through Howe’s line. The primary issue is that water is also making its way into the sewer line and being transported to the treatment plant.
Howe’s sewer rates do not account for this additional load on the sewage line, he said.
The primary issue relates to storm water that is able to seep into the sewer line, Howe City Administrator Joe Shephard said, estimating that the city currently owes about $300,000. During periods of heavy rain, like those seen throughout 2019, water that enters the soil often makes its way into the sewage line.
During normal months, Shephard said the city’s bill may be about $30,000, but heavy rains can increase this to $90,000 or more per month.
"We just don’t have the funds to pay that kind of bill," Shephard said.
Currently, Shephard said the city’s sewer system is comprised of a mixture of modern plastic piping and clay pipes. The issue of infiltration is fairly common and affects most cities as infrastructure ages.
"Unfortunately for us, our problem is probably worse than it is for others," he said.
With regard to updating infrastructure, Shephard noted the cost of improvement projects.
"If we had the funds to address the infiltration, then we’d have the money to pay Sherman," he said. "We are trying the best we can to get this straightened out."
The debt to Sherman comes during a time of economic uncertainty for many cities following the COVID-19 pandemic. Sherman, along with other communities, has had to tighten its belt for the current and next fiscal years due to expected revenue shortfalls related tot he pandemic.
As a result, the city of Sherman has recently looked toward other revenue sources for funding. As an example, the city is pursuing funds from the Texoma Area Solid Waste Authority that are expected to be distributed between partner cities in the near future.
"Of course the city of Sherman, as is every city right now, is interested in making sure their budget is as tightly wound as it can be and not spending unnecessarily or wasting money on services for people who do not live here," Strauch said. "The answer for them can’t be that we just pay for it out of our pockets. That’s doesn’t work for the city. "
During the interim, Strauch noted that the city is legally obligated to continue its services to Howe.
Michael Hutchins is the local government reporter for the Herald Democrat. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.