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City hears status of new Wastewater Treatment Plant

By Helen Tomlin News Review Staff  WriterDuring the Ridgecrest City Council meeting, held July 19, some of the things discussed were long-term plans for an improved wastewater treatment plant, a 6 percent increase in costs for the citizens for trash service, funding for two school police officers, and several infrastructure projects around town that will utilize part of a $4,000,000 grant.

The first item on the agenda was an update on the project status of a new Wastewater Treatment Plant.  A thorough presentation was given by Mike Nunley of Mike Nunley and Associates, who has worked with the city for the past three years.  So far, 30 percent of the updated design proposals have been submitted to the city.  The completed project will be located on NAWS China Lake.  Nunley says the new project will be “a very robust treatment process compared to what the city uses now.”  It will be able to handle a “wide range of flow and loads and is easy to operate.”  It will also “have the capability of producing its own power by converting the collected bio-solids with anaerobic digestion into gas.”  The completed facility will have three buildings. One will be the 6,630-square-foot main operations building, the second will be a 4,470-square-foot maintenance building, and the third will be a 2,785-square-foot vehicle storage building.  All the buildings will be attractive, cost-effective, and equipped to handle the desert’s high temperatures.  Construction is projected to begin in the third quarter of 2024 and, hopefully, will be in operation in the first quarter of 2027.  The total cost of the project is estimated to be around $79,000,000.

More imminent news to the Ridgecrest citizens is a 6 percent cost increase for Waste Management rates.  Many citizens passionately discussed this during the June 21 meeting, with many complaints about poor service on a bi-weekly schedule.  However, the rate increase is contractual and will be implemented in the 2023-24 fiscal year, with an additional 3.1 percent added during the 2024-25 fiscal year. (It could increase up to 6 percent again, however).  Mayor Pro Tem Solomon Rajaratnam said people have recently told him the trash service has improved since the last contentious meeting. He assured the audience, “We will continue this dialogue to make sure the quality [of service] stays [satisfactory].”   To discuss this further, the Ridgecrest community is welcome to attend the next City Org committee meeting on August 4, and another Trash Town Hall will be scheduled after that.

The Council voted to authorize City Manager, Ron Strand, to agree with Sierra Sands Unified School District to pay half the salary and benefit costs of two School Resource Officers (SROs) to work on campus at the Ridgecrest schools. The two resource officers will cost the city an estimated $165,000 annually.  Vanessa Brookman spoke up during the “Public Comments” segment on this subject.  She said she appreciates officers being on “any school campus in this day and age.”  She believes it has been proven “time and time again” that “it is not only nice, but it is a necessity.”  She said the presence of peace officers in the schools provides a positive influence, security, and comfort for the parents who know “there’s more than just teachers [there].”  But her reason for speaking up was to clarify the cost the city is paying for one officer (50 percent of the two SRO ‘s).  She questioned why an officer, whose average pay would be between $60-80,000 per year, would cost the city $165,000 annually.  She was told the requested amount includes insurance and benefits.  Bruen interjected, “I would think a really strong argument that since 2020, the price for officers has increased significantly.”  Brookman responded, “That just seems like a lot of money to me, that’s all.”  (According to Zip Recruiter, “the average annual pay for a police officer in California is $61,588 a year,” or $30 per hour, as of June 27, 2023).

The Deputy City Manager and Public Works Director, Travis Reed, reported that the city had been awarded an approximate $4,000,000 grant from the Affordable Housing Sustainable Communities Project.  (Ridgecrest received it two years ago in conjunction with the Mojave View Apartment project).  Currently, there are plans for landscape renovations around the Kerr McGee Center and City Hall buildings, bus shelters at two bus stops, upgrades for ADA accessibility, additional street lighting, and bike lane improvements.  Other improvements discussed are pedestrian hybrid beacons that will go on the five following intersections: Felspar and Norma, Felspar and Downs, Las Flores, and N. Sierra Vista, Graaf and W. Alene, and Church and S. Helena Street.  Reed requested that the Council approve the proposal for preliminary engineering, design, bidding assistance, and construction engineering by Willdan Engineering.  In the proposal, Tyrone Peter, Director of Engineering, wrote that he plans to start construction on these projects in the first week of September 2024.