COMMERCE - Commerce City Council members voted Tuesday to pay off the city's water tower.

The city owes approximately $600,000 to the Oklahoma Water Resources Board which loaned the city $655,000 in 2002 to settle an overdue balloon payment owed to a local bank for purchase and construction of the second-hand tower.

The city's public works director, Joe Crawford, opposes the decision.

“I am not against paying off the water tower,” Crawford said. “But, the timing is wrong. I think we should wait.”

Council member Bob Crawford said Wednesday that the water tower has been a source of frustration for the city and its residents for several years.

Construction of the tower was delayed and the work quality was poor, according to city leaders, leaving the city, and more than $100,000 in city funds, locked in litigation for years before the matter was resolved.

Council members voted unanimously to use revenue generated in two special remediation projects undertaken by the city - one awarded by the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and the other provided through the Oklahoma Conservation Commission.

Commerce Mayor John Crawford said that the council and the special project work crews agreed from the onset that money generated from the projects would be used to pay off the water tower debt.

“It was a priority,” John Crawford said. “And the workers worked hard … did a good job and got (the original 100 yard remediation projects) done.”

Since the initial 100-yard remediation project was initiated, 19 more yards were added. Approximately half of the 19 yards still have to be remediated, according to city officials.

Joe Crawford, however, believes that it is premature to pay off the water tower because there is still work to be done on the ODEQ (yard remediation) project and the city has expended money in the subsequent project that has yet to be reimbursed.

“All I am saying is that we should finish the yards, get the reimbursal and then pay off the water tower,” Joe Crawford said.

Joe Crawford also has concerns that, if the city pays off the water tower, the municipality runs the risk of not being able to afford upgrading the city lagoons.

Commerce has been under a consent order issued by ODEQ after the city's wastewater discharge exceeded acceptable environmental limits, according to the public works director.

In order to pull the city out from under the order, Joe Crawford said two new lagoons have to be built, three existing lagoons need to be cleaned out and new lines have to be laid. Currently, there is no formal engineers estimate on that cost.

John Crawford believes there is enough to pay off the water tower and complete the lagoon project, based on verbal estimates offered by an engineer two years ago.

“I just want to make sure that the money is spent on what the original plan was,” John Crawford said.

Joe Crawford also said it “makes no sense” to pay off a 4-percent (water tower) loan and run the risk of having to borrow additional money - possibly at a higher interest rate - to do all that is necessary to eliminate the consent order.

“I am just saying ‘slow down,'” Joe Crawford said. “The timing is just not right.”

What is in the bank?

€ Approximately $129,047.39 in unincumbered funds is available in an account set aside to hold money for the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality yard remediation project.

€ Approximately $155,185.63 in unincumbered funds is available in an account set aside to hold money for the Oklahoma Conservation Commission remediation project.

€ Approximately $450,000 of revenue generated from the OCC and ODEQ projects is available in a CD account. The council voted to move the money into the CD account in order to boost its interest value.

The three values combined total $734,233.02

The city will still see revenue from the last of an add-on project - 19 yards to be remediated.