SWEET HOME — A number of maintenance issues at the Sweet Home Water Plant have been corrected, Jacobs Engineering regional manager Brian Helliwell told the City Council Tuesday evening.

Jacobs has managed the plant’s operations since its 2009 construction, and at the previous plant since 2006. But after a March audit of operations, councilors put the company on notice that its annual contract of more than $1 million might be canceled due to maintenance deficiencies.

“I hope we can continue our partnership with the city,” Helliwell said after showing photos and describing the maintenance work. “I wasn’t proud of the way the facility looked three months ago, but a lot has been done in the last three months.”

Council members are so dissatisfied that they are considering seeking another operator or hiring staff to manage the plant in-house. Public Works Director Greg Springman estimates it will take a staff of one manager, four operators and one mechanic to operate the plant at an estimated annual cost of about $1.09 million.

In July, the council rejected Jacobs' request for a 3% fee increase that would take the annual contract from $1.06 million to $1.09 million. Springman told the council at that time he did not believe the plant’s maintenance was up to par.

During an audit of the water plant in March, the city compiled a report of deficiencies from minor items such as broken door closures to a nonworking HVAC furnace. Some equipment was obsolete and a 24-inch valve was not working properly.

Efram Rodriguez of Jacobs said the company realizes “we could do a better job communicating and we also need to define the type of information you need, what level of detail you would like to see.”

“Trust is hard to get back,” councilman Dave Trask said. “It’s just not acceptable to have to do an audit to find out what is wrong.”

Trask said it is Jacobs’ responsibility to inform the city and council of maintenance matters at the plant.

“You need to tell us what needs to be fixed and fix it,” Trask said. “Now, it could take hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix stuff.”

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Rodriguez agreed.

“This is on us,” Rodriguez said. “We have managed that better.”

The council directed Springman to complete another audit to determine how much catch-up maintenance has been completed and provide that information to the council by its Oct. 22 meeting.

If another company is hired or the city takes over its own management of the plant, the switch would occur on July 1, 2020. The city would have to pay Jacobs a $53,064 demobilization fee.

Contact Linn County reporter Alex Paul at 541-812-6114.


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