Polk to vote on CooperRiis water line tonight

Published 3:25 pm Friday, July 6, 2012

Polk County commissioners are scheduled to decide tonight – Monday, July 9 – whether to run a water line to CooperRiis Healing Community in Mill Spring and, perhaps more importantly, whether the county will foot the full bill.
Commissioners will meet at 7 p.m. in the upstairs meeting room of the Womack building in Columbus.
Last month, commissioners debated whether the county should pay an additional $27,000 to run the water line an extra 1,000 feet further along Hwy. 108 of the CooperRiis property as the facility requested. During last month’s discussion, commissioners said the extra 1,000 feet was requested so CooperRiis would save on insurance, but CooperRiis Executive Director and President Virgil Stucker said the request is for safety and is not related to insurance.
“This request has nothing to do with saving money on insurance premiums,” Stucker said in a letter to commissioners. “At best our savings will be a few hundred dollars. Our request is an attempt to help us save lives if there were ever a serious fire. We have no incentive to hook onto the water line if it simply stops at our property line. Our current water supply is adequate. In fact, our expense for connecting to county water will be considerable.”
Stucker said the extra 1,000 feet would provide the facility with two fire hydrants. He said CooperRiis would also be among the county’s larger water customers, with use estimated at 140,000 gallons per month. The organization also plans to construct three new residences in the next year, which will increase the water needs.
Stucker said CooperRiis is a major employer in Polk County, with 116 employees and a payroll that exceeds $4.8 million. The facility began with approximately 24 employees in 2003, according to Stucker.
“Further, the generosity to Polk County of CooperRiis’ founders, Don and Lisbeth Cooper, is worth noting,” Stucker said in his letter. “To establish the CooperRiis Healing Community in Mill Spring, Don and Lisbeth Cooper have raised $30 million, the large majority of which was invested in Polk County. But their generosity has extended beyond the CooperRiis campus to many civic and public causes in Polk County, with donations now exceeding $1.5 million in total.”
Stucker listed the Coopers’ many donations to Polk County causes, including $450,000 to the Polk County Library, $100,000 to Thermal Belt Outreach Ministry, numerous contributions to St. Luke’s Hospital, a $50,000 donation to the CooperRiis Barn at FENCE as well as donations to the Tuba Christmas concert, Hospice, Pavillon International, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office ($10,000) and the Mill Spring Fire Department ($5,000).
Last month, commissioners were split on whether to pay for the extension and especially whether to extend the line the additional 1,000 feet. CooperRiis is a nonprofit organization, and some commissioners said the county has already set a precedent of paying for water line extensions to nonprofits.
Commissioners are scheduled to vote on the extension after seeing a Powerpoint presentation and hearing from CooperRiis officials, including reviewing Stucker’s letter.
If commissioners approve the extension to CooperRiis, the county would amend its current construction project in which a water line is being run to connect the county’s well system at the middle school and the Town of Columbus’ water system at the high school. The current project, which is nearing completion, will allow the two entities to have back-up water.
The total cost to extend the water line from the crossroads of Hwy. 108 and Hwy. 9 in Mill Spring to CooperRiis is estimated at $111,543, including costs to run it to the middle of the property.
The county’s original contract amount connecting the schools was approved at $592,465. Commissioners approved an addition of $23,805 last month to cover additional costs for 23 taps requested. If commissioners decide to pay for the line to run to CooperRiis as requested, the total cost to the county for the water line from the high school to CooperRiis will be $727,813.

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