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Tuolumne Sanitary District, TUD merger talks continue

Tuolumne City Sanitary District and Tuolumne Utilities District officials are continuing to inch forward on a proposal to dissolve TCSD and turn over its assets and operations to the larger TUD.

But until that finally happens, TUD will be involved in operations and improvements at the TCSD wastewater plant, officials with both districts said on Wednesday.

The TCSD Board of Directors voted to accept an agreement through which TUD staff will help with plant operations when requested by authorized TCSD officials. If TCSD eventually does dissolve, TUD will likely own and operate the Tuolumne plant.    

Under the interim agreement, TUD will bill TCSD for the staff time spent assisting in plant operations. Hourly rates will range from $65 to $105 depending on the tasks, according to the agreement.    

However, discussion between directors and officials with both districts showed two things remain uncertain: when the ongoing upgrades to the TCSD sewage treatment plant and the dissolution will actually be completed.    

Board President John Feriani and district engineer Chad Coleman said TCSD and TUD planners have worked together to pare back some of the improvements. Changes include a less-expensive building to house the operations center, no longer including a sludge press and using some of the funds for the project to pave on-site roadways, Feriani said.    

The district is looking to fund the improvements with a $5 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, though the district will only receive money for work completed. Feriani said TCSD officials are looking to install the “minimum required” improvements to the plant to comply with state and federal regulations.    

However, Feriani also expressed frustration over some USDA requirements tied to the loan that he said could end up costing the district tens of thousands of dollars.    

“We’re getting the money on the cheap. But in the end, it’s costing us a lot of money,” Feriani said.    

TCSD and TUD have been in talks for months over a dissolution agreement that would turn all TCSD contracts, debts and assets, including the wastewater plant, over to TUD. TCSD faces a number of strains on its finances, including a recent face-off with the Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians over a disputed $2.9 million bill for sewer connections.    

Work on the $6 million sewage plant also stalled when the contractor sued the district.   

Any dissolution must be approved by the Tuolumne County Local Agency Formation Commission, known as LAFCO, which reviews the boundaries of special districts. A formal application has not yet been submitted to LAFCO.    

TCSD Director Sean Murry expressed his own frustrations Wednesday over the dissolution process, saying he would like to see the district board put the same effort into that plan as it is putting into the plant improvements.    

“How far forward has it moved since August?” Murry asked. “We want to see both of these things moved along.”    

In other action, the TCSD board is looking to fill a recent vacancy. Former director Jonnie Kellogg resigned from the position in November. His letter of resignation did not list a reason, and Kellogg could not be reached in time for this story.

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