JEROME • If Jerome Cheese Co. pulled out of the city’s wastewater treatment plant, would it eliminate the need for voters to pass a $48 million bond issue to improve the current facility?
It’s a question that officials are being asked to consider after just agreeing to a $48.7 million bond amount two weeks ago. If passed, the money would be used to to add redundancy and increase flow capacity.
Jerome Cheese is currently the city’s largest wastewater user, but the company is pursuing an option to build its own wastewater treatment facility.
At an open forum on Monday, Jerome Cheese Plant Manager Bill Riebesell said the reduced flow would allow the city to pursue a smaller bond amount or none at all.
During his presentation, Riebesell repeatedly requested the city allow the company to de-annex from the city, or allow the company to not pay property taxes on all of its property. While the city would no longer collect property taxes from Jerome Cheese, it would have extra capacity and opportunity to attract new businesses to fill the space.
“If we’re going to be paying for our own $30 million to $40 million wastewater facility, we don’t really want to be paying for somebody else’s,” he said. “This could really solve the need for an almost $50 million bond.”
City Council members remained hesitant to agree with Riebesell.
“There are too many ‘ifs,’” Councilwoman Dawn Soto said. “We don’t know if you’re going to get approval from the state or the (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) and we don’t know when that would happen.”
Another concern is the potential revenue loss the city would face if Jerome Cheese de-annexed.
Last year, Jerome Cheese paid close to $600,000 in property taxes.
Mayor John Shine said even with the extra capacity, the city would still need a bond to pay for improvements. The minimum amount needed for the city is $33 million, he said.
“The remaining $15 million is a gamble,” Shine said.
Shine added that residents could see a $16 increase in property taxes if Jerome Cheese de-annexed.
“These aren’t the same numbers,” Shine said. “Property taxes go to our general fund. A bond is paid for by service fees.”
“But it all comes out of one wallet,” Reibesell answered.
Council members concluded the meeting by deciding to schedule another meeting with Jerome Cheese at a future council meeting.