A $6.02 million 2012 budget for Pine Bluff Wastewater Utility including $1.27 million in planned capital improvements was approved Wednesday by its governing commission.

A $6.02 million 2012 budget for Pine Bluff Wastewater Utility including $1.27 million in planned capital improvements was approved Wednesday by its governing commission.

PBWU Manager Ken Johnson listed the planned capital improvements in a presentation to the commission:

• $470,000 in sewer rehabilitations

• $207,000 in pump station improvements

• $130,000 to purchase three utility trucks to replace older-model vehicles

• $115,000 for a mini trackhoe excavator

• $45,000 for a technical service geographic information system force main study

• $35,000 to move a storage building to create more space at the PBWU main office

• $27,000 in improvements to the technology used to monitor the pump stations

• And $25,000 for an update to the software the department uses to track customer calls, work orders, projects, etc.

The list of proposed capital improvements is slightly less than what was spent in 2011, a decision Johnson said was based on an estimate of what he felt would be feasible in 2012, given increases to insurance and energy costs, decreases to anticipated revenue and other factors. Also in explaining the decrease, Johnson noted that 2011 was a year when more was spent on capital improvements than usual.

“I wish we could do more in that area (sewer rehabilitation),” Johnson said, noting that the amount of available funding always limits what is possible. “It would be great if we could utilize more funds toward [sewer rehabilitation] work. We’ve come a long way. At one time we only put about $150,000 into it, now we’re up to almost a half a million dollars. We have made big improvements. We still have some problems out there. We don’t have the revenues where we could have everything done overnight, but we have kind of taken the approach where each year we have earmarked specific locations in the city that we know are problems and we try to progressively year to year work to try to make improvements.”

Johnson noted that the number of stoppages to service were down in 2011, continuing a several-year trend. He said the goal of investing money back into the sewer system is to continue to improve the service for PBWU customers.

Concerning the planned purchase of the mini trackhoe excavator, Johnson said that it will enhance the department’s ability to work safety and efficiently in tight spaces and on less-than-ideal grounds.

Related to the planned $45,000 for a technical service global information force main study, Johnson said the engineering study will help determine which force main pipes are in need of replacement. The underground pipes are pressurized and do not have manholes and are therefore difficult to check with video cameras, as is the normal practice.

Johnson showed the commission photos of similar pipes near the PBWU Kansas Street pump station that had to be replaced in December at a cost of $52,000. Sewer gases had severely eroded the pipes, which had been underground for about 25 years, Johnson said.

Also as a part of the 2012 budget, raises of about 3 percent will be awarded to employees who qualify under the department’s merit-based system for determining the amount of each raise.

“We try to take care of our employees for their good work,” Johnson said. “When I go out there on a holiday weekend and we have a line break and we have guys out there and they’re covered in mud and things of that nature — they deal with things that go unnoticed until there’s a problem. So we like to reward them not only with compensation but with appreciation and other incentives that we have too.”

The basic categories included in the budget, as summarized by Johnson, are:

• $6.02 million in annual revenue

• $502,000 in monthly revenue

• $500,000 in monthly expenditures

• $1.27 million in capital improvements

• $160,000 to build a sewer interceptor line at Interstate 530 and U.S. 63, if the city is able to move forward with the planned project, which has faced funding problems

• And $9,000 in monthly debt service payments.

In other business, the commission congratulated tech services and GIS supervisor David Poe on completing an associate’s degree in computer-aided drafting at Southeast Arkansas College.

“He was a participant in our Employee Tuition Reimbursement Program,” Johnson said in an email after the meeting. “We are so proud of his success. He worked full time as one of our supervisors, has a family and still completed his education.”