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Siouxland infrastructure
Sioux City water mains breaking at faster clip this winter

SIOUX CITY | If it seems like more Sioux City water mains were breaking this winter, that's because they were.

In a rough start to 2018 for its water infrastructure, the city reported 39 main breaks in the first nine weeks of the year, or an average of about four per week. That number was up from 24 breaks during the same period last winter and 22 the year before. 

Going back to the start of the city's fiscal year on July 1, the city has counted 106 water main breaks as of last week. With more cold weather forecast for this month, that's on pace to surpass the 107 breaks tallied during the previous fiscal year, according to statistics from the city's Underground Utilities Division.  

City underground utilities superintendent Jon O'Brien said deeper freezing and other soil conditions are often the culprit for main breaks, with the number varying from year to year and hard to forecast. 

"You can't really predict what year and in what main you're going to have issues," he said. "It depends on the soil conditions and what's around it that causes a main break."

This year is on pace to be the second in a row that the number of breaks has increased, although the number of breaks has the past two years been far below much higher numbers experienced earlier in the decade, such as the 184 counted in FY2013, 152 in FY2014 and 133 in FY2015. 

Among the highest-profile breaks this year was a Jan. 17 water main break on an access road near West High School that temporarily closed West High and West Middle and led to a more than two-day boil advisory for many west side residents. 

With 474 miles of water mains in Sioux City, the city averaged around 22 main breaks per 100 miles last year. That is below the estimated national average of 25 to 30 breaks per 100 miles.

Sioux City and some other cities around the country face aging water infrastructure and the rising costs of fixing and replacing the underground pipes. The city's budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1, approved last week, does not forecast to decrease the age of the water mains but does expect to keep pace in order to prevent their collective age from increasing.

Currently, more than 30 percent of the city's existing water mains are more than 60 years old, the age at which the city's utilities department says mains are typically in need of replacement. Fourteen percent of the pipes are 94 years old or more.

O'Brien said each year, the city tries to identify which replacement projects will carry the largest benefit for the city. 

"It's an ongoing battle," O'Brien said. "We're a large city with a lot of water mains in the ground."

City Utilities Director Mark Simms said the city takes into account the frequency and location of the water main breaks as it lays out its capital improvements projects. 

"We look and see if we have breaks occurring in the same area on the same line, and that might force us to change the focus of our CIP (capital improvement program) to respond to a certain area sooner," he said. 

Simms pointed to the overall drop in water main breaks over the past few years as a positive trend and credited the current City Council's emphasis on infrastructure repair. 

According to a report of water main breaks from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31 last year, the average age of the mains that broke was 72 years old, although the breaks included several newer mains, including four from the 1990s, one from the 2000s and two from the 2010s. 

O'Brien said winters with deeper freezing will typically cause more water main breaks than lighter winters, although breaks occur year-round and are hard to predict. The way a main is installed in the ground and how it sits in the soil will also play a role, he said. 

The average cost per water main break last budget year was nearly $7,000.

Sioux City School Board mulls pay freeze for administrators

SIOUX CITY |  Amid public outcry about a proposal to eliminate $1.4 million in supplemental pay for nearly 300 Sioux City School District teachers, School Board President Mike Krysl said the district also may consider curtailing administrative salaries in the next budget year.


"We could be talking about a pay freeze for some administrators," Krysl said in a Friday interview, echoing what he briefly stated during the school board meeting Monday.

Kryl said any such talk of keeping administrator pay at the same rate or lower likely won't get a deep look until April.

During Monday's meeting, some members of the public pushed backed against the district's proposal to reduce by $4,792 per year, the extra pay middle school and high school teachers receive for duties beyond their regular five-period day, saying instructors were being unfairly singled out.

Superintendent Paul Gausman defended the plan, saying district leaders were forced to make hard choices in the wake of Iowa lawmakers approving just a 1 percent increase in supplemental state aid for the state's public schools. With the district facing a $1.6 million budget shortfall, the pay decrease would be preferable to laying off multiple teachers and other staff, Gausman said.

While school officials have identified $200,000 in cuts elsewhere in the budget, they're somewhat hamstrung because salaries and benefits such as health insurance and retirement contributions comprise 81 percent of the annual budget.

For the 2018-19 year, the district expects to spend $135 million on salaries and benefits, an increase of about $2.75 million from the current year. The district has more than 1,900 employees.

For the current fiscal year, 1,002 teachers receive 72 percent of the salaries and benefits, or $95.1 million; 57 administrators collect $8.2 million, or 6 percent; and $29.6 million, or 22 percent, goes to 625 other staff, which includes support staff, substitute teachers, instructional assistants and maintenance and transportation workers.

District spokeswoman Mandi Mayo said she could not provide a breakdown of next year's anticipated increase in costs for each of the three main employee groups.

"At this time, specific salary delineations are relevant to the closed bargaining sessions," Mayo said. "The information will be available when the master contracts have been finalized and board approved."

Superintendent Paul Gausman is the district's highest-paid employee with an annual base salary of $238,523, after receiving a 1.1 percent raise the previous year.



The school board is considering raising pay for substitute teachers. Human Resources Director Rita Vannatta told board members the daily pay rate for substitutes has not been changed for some time, and it should increase to keep Sioux City competitive with other districts.

The proposal, which would raise total substitute pay by $101,000, calls for the daily rate for the first 20 days of substituting to increase from $100 to $110 per day. It would go from $120 to $130 for substitutes who teach between 21 and 50 days. The pay for substituting in excess of 50 days would remain at $172 per day.

The school district hired 239 substitutes in the 2016-17 year.



Freezing rain causes problems in Siouxland

SIOUX CITY | Hours of rain morphed into freezing rain, drizzle and snow as Friday went on, creating problems in Siouxland, as power lines fell down after icing over and drivers slipped off roads into ditches.

The Iowa Department of Transportation at 4:30 p.m. reported a semi truck that went off the road causing a blockage to the eastbound Interstate I-129 bypass from southbound Interstate 29 on Sioux City's south edge. Sioux City Fire and Rescue advised people to use caution on I-29, plus other places in the city as icing worsened on untreated roads during the post-work commute Friday.

By 8 p.m., there were other reports of spinouts on I-29 and other Woodbury County roads. There were no reports of any major injuries in any of the wrecks.

Siouxland was under a Winter Weather Advisory, with more northern counties getting some snow. By 4 p.m., the Sioux County Sheriff's Office reported roads were nearly completely covered by snow, and by 6 p.m., the county's social media accounts said "roads are 100 percent ice-covered and there is no travel advised."

Sioux City emergency officials responded to several calls of power or cable television lines being knocked down, particularly from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. afternoon, when winds gusting to 30 mph pummeled the area. Earlier in the afternoon, a power line was reported down in North Sioux City, South Dakota.

The freezing drizzle was expected to be done by the early hours of Saturday morning. Two more rain and snow systems are expected to move into the area on Sunday and Monday.