"I'm not in the sky, not in the heavens. I live right here on Mother Earth."
So said Helper citizen David Turvey as he explained his down-to-earth problem with flooding at a recent Helper City Council meeting. He was not expecting miracles with the city's drainage system, but he suspected the problem might be easy to fix: just clear out a culvert that is probably clogged with debris and road sand that washes off the streets when the snow melts in spring.
Turvey was not alone. Next at the podium was Tracy Coon, who also has a problem with drainage. The curb and gutter at her Voll Street home won't keep snowmelt and heavy rain runoff out of her garage. She said she and her husband Travis are not investing in home improvements because they don't think property values will go up because of the flood threat.
Then Troy Gallejos also reported runoff woes in his neighborhood.
These were three people from three different parts of town, representing a sample of the city-wide situation of aging infrastructure. It was concerns about dilapidated water, sewer and electrical systems that prompted the city council to enact a 65 percent property tax increase three weeks ago. The question is, which of the problems the citizens raised will be fixed first?
"I'm not trying to dodge you, but the answer is we don't know yet," Mayor Dean Armstrong responded to the citizens. The city's water, sewer and storm drainage system were all put in place before there were any standards, he explained. Councilman Robert Bradley added that the city "has to get a handle on the whole situation" before it proceeds with any piecemeal repairs.
That is why the council, by unanimous vote, authorized the mayor and councilmen Gary Harwood and Chris Pugliese to screen the various engineering proposals and to come up with a recommendation on which firm will be most able to assess what the city needs. They will also devise a comprehensive plan on how to install and finance the improvements.
"We are not going to spend taxpayer money until that is set," Armstrong declared. He thanked the citizens who appeared for bringing their issues to the council's attention. "You are telling us how to prioritize," he said.
The infrastructure crisis was dramatized early last month when a torrential rainstorm pounded the city, flooding homes, tearing up pavement and knocking down power poles. Some parts of town were not as severely affected as others, but the unanswered question is whether that was because storm drainage was better in those areas or there was simply not as much rain hitting those sections of the community.