July 1 Will Bring Sewer Rate Increases
Big projects and rainy day funds need money, aldermen said.
As of July 1, residents will be paying $5.12 per thousand gallons of water used for sewer services following the City Council's Monday vote to increase rates.
After the 5 percent increase takes effect, an average four-person household using 12,000 gallons of water per month should see an increase of $2.88, according to city estimates.
The city's Finance, Council Affairs and Administrative Services Committee recommended the increase to fund some major sewer system projects on the horizon, including work on the Saylor Street force main and the lift station located near Route 83 and Third Street, as well as upgrades to the sludge storage pad.
Along with generating money for infrastructure, the committee wants to build up the sewer fund's cash reserves. The sewer system operates as an enterprise fund, with rate fees as the only source of income. Currently, the system has about $400,000 on hand. Ideally, the fund should have more than $3 million in reserves.
First Ward Alderman Diane Gutenkauf said she was under the impression that after the council voted two weeks ago to refinance some debt and sell $2.9 million in bonds, the Finance Committee was going to put forth a lower rate increase.
Finance Committee member and 4th Ward Alderman Kevin York said the committee originally was considering a 7.5 percent increase for the next eight years until the bond plan was approved.
“Nobody's happy about raising rates,” he said, but cash balances in the fund are “critically low.” Also, many of the costs are associated with work that was mandated by changes in state or federal guidelines.
York added that operating costs for the sewer system were likely to only increase about 2 to 3 percent per year.
Third Ward Alderman Michael Bram offered a substitute plan that would keep the rate increase at 2.5 percent, but his idea did not survive a full council vote. Bram and 1st Ward Alderman Paula Pezza ultimately voted against the rate increase.
Pezza expressed concern that one of the unknowns in the future funding picture was how much the city would have to spend on any potential long-term fixes to the sewer and stormwater system.
Stormwater subcommittees are currently finalizing their recommendations for dealing with chronic flooding problems in some areas of the city. City Manager Jim Grabowski said those subcommittees would be presenting their findings in the next few months.