EARLY - As a city council member, David Gray could not persuade fellow council members to choose a new water plant over a new pipeline.

Gray couldn’t do it as a private citizen, either.

Council members heard impassioned pleas Tuesday night from Gray - who resigned his council seat last month - and his wife, Darlene, to back out of their earlier decision to install a pipeline and to consider once again building a new plant.

After the Grays spoke, council members unanimously approved a contract with the Brown County Water Improvement District for the city to buy up to 285 million gallons of treated water a year.

The city has already signed a contract with the water district for the installation of an 8-mile-long, 24-inch pipeline from the water district’s water treatment plant to the Salt Creek area. The water district has said it will provide the labor for the installation of the pipeline, which will have a capacity of 10 million gallons a day if pressurized, and 6 million gallons a day when gravity fed.

The city has also signed a contract with the Zephyr Water Supply Corp. that splits ownership of the pipeline between Early and Zephyr 60-40. Zephyr, which currently buys treated water from Early, will become a direct customer of the water district for treated water when the pipeline is completed.

“There are some land mines out there that no one has looked at,” David Gray said, repeating a sentiment he had expressed several times as a council member.

Gray and his wife said the city water customers will see larger water bills since the city will be helping service the water district’s debt for its new water treatment plant.

Mayor Bob Mangrum said water bills will go up whether with either choice, since a new water treatment plant in Early would have involved debt. Early officials have maintained that there wouldn’t be much difference to water customers in the costs of the two projects, and have said the pipeline will last twice as long and provide greater capacity.

Early City Attorney Perry Sims said while he respects the Grays’ position, the city has already obligated itself to go with the pipeline because it has signed a contract with the water district.

“ … That ship has already left the dock,” Sims said.

Early city tax rate may increase

EARLY - City council members agreed Tuesday to set the city’s tax rate at 50.97 cents per $100 valuation for the 2008-’09 fiscal year, up from the current rate of 48 cents per $100 valuation.

The council will have public hearings on Aug. 26 and Sept. 9 on the tax rate, and will adopt the rate on Sept. 18.

Early City Administrator Ken Thomas said the increase in the tax rate is necessary to ensure the city has the revenue to pay the bonds on street and sewer improvement projects.