Public concern over water usage and a recent tax adjustment at the Sunnyside Cogeneration Power Plant came to a head at Tuesday's Sunnyside City Council meeting as local residents, council members and city employees discussed the ongoing consequences associated with the plant's recent actions.
The discussion was brought forward during the public comment period of the meeting as city employee and Sunnyside resident Mike Marquez addressed the council.
Marquez, who oversees the city's water supply, stated that he had a problem with the power plant's devaluation and subsequent property tax decrease based on his view of the plant's ongoing production.
"In an open meeting they did tell us that during their last overhaul they made some improvements are are running much more efficiently. They are using a whole lot more of our water, putting more power out on the grid, ultimately putting more revenue in their pockets." commented Marquez. "I don't understand how an industry can be devalued to the degree they were devalued when they claim to be running more efficiently."
The power plant is classified as a centrally assessed property, meaning that its value is determined by the Utah State Tax Commission rather than county assessors.
"Do they pay less for their water than our residents do?" asked Council member Tony Riffle following Marquez's comments. The answer is yes.
According to public record, the original and current contract negotiated with Sunnyside Cogeneration shows that the plant pays $2,520 for the first 450,000 gallons they use. They then pay $3 for every additional thousand. Their total usage is then discounted by 15 percent.
Sunnyside residents pay $36 for the first 8000 with the same $3 per additional 1000 gallons.
City officials report that the plant is currently using approximately 3.5 million gallons per month, a number that has risen drastically since the plant's last overhaul, according to Marquez.
"I think we need to look at that contract," said Council member Shari Madrid as the session continued.
Marquez reported his last check of the Grassy Trail Reservoir found that was 30 inches of snow at the city's check in sight and that the snow carried a 10 percent water content.
"You know that could all change though because if we get a really dry and windy period, it will suck the moisture right out of that snow," he said. "You know we're not too bad but it's hard to forecast what we are going to get and we are quite low for this time of year. It is concerning."
While water issue always bear scrutiny, it is the change in tax rate that has put the city in a drastic financial conundrum. According to the council, Sunnyside Cogeneration's recent appeal for property value adjustment will cost the city approximately $100,000 in lost property taxes.
"They're still trying to work on the settlement concerning the taxes," said Sunnyside Mayor Doug Parsons. "However with the water, I think sometimes with the amount that is coming in, they are using more than what they are allotted."
According to Madrid, the plants usage has gone up, specifically during weekend periods when the city had requested that the plant cut their usage to 100 gallons per minute.
"Apparently they didn't do that for very long," she said.
With the cut in city revenue, Sunnyside officials had asked that the plant cut back as there is no city employee working during the weekends and the plant's use was draining the community's water levels to the point where an East Carbon City employee would have to come on shift and produce more treated water.
East Carbon and Sunnside share both the Grassy Trail Reservoir's raw water along with the treated water from a single community facility. Sunnyside Cogeneration owns 10 percent of the reservoir's capacity.
"To address the issue with the value of the power plant, I have contacted the county, gave Julie Medley a little bit of information and they are looking into it. The county has already signed but the state has not. I explained to her the water usage and our thought that they were making more power. They will take a look at all that information."
A call to Sunnyside Cogeneration to discern their thoughts concerning the property assesment was not returned in time for publication.