Time to pay for costly sewer repairs
With the recent article: “Utility Committee Supports Rate Hikes,” June 6, 2013, (The Fairfield Ledger) there have been many comments about the current proposed rate hikes that I would like to address.
Since August of 2002 I’ve been councilman for the 5th Ward. I was appointed as a member of the Utility committee that year and in January of 2004 I was made chairman. For these past nine years I’ve dedicated many hours to studying and understanding the problems our city faces with the issue of sanitary sewer overflows (SSO’s).
During this time I’ve proposed, and voted for, three sewer rate increases. These rate increases were implemented to halt the utility from being in financial default, and to comply with an administrative order received from the Iowa Attorney General’s office in 2008 to eliminate SSO’s.
For the purposes of this example I’ve used 500 cubic feet of water usage. This amount is just under the average household use. Sewer usage is based on the total cubic feet of water used per household. Household use of water and sewer represents 96 percent of revenue to the city for purification of both drinking water and sewer effluent and maintenance of these utilities. Sewer revenues are an enterprise fund and increases are based on projections of future expenditures, they are not intended for use in the city’s general fund.
The following is a history of the City of Fairfield’s sewer rates for the past 32 years;
July 1981 to July 1992 — $2.55 per month (set by Fairfield Water Board, billing was described as being quarterly)
July 1992 to May 1999 — $6.25 per month (water board was disbanded, city council assumes responsibility for rates)
May 1999 to July 2002 — $7.65 per month
July 2002 to July 2009 — $8.20 per month
July 2009 to April 2010 — $26 per month (administrative order received in 2008)
April 2010 to April 2012 — $31 per month
April 2012 to present — $31 per month
Beginning in 2008, to be in compliance with the administrative order, the city embarked on an aggressive program of sewer repairs. From June 2008 to July 2009 the city completed replacement of cracked or broken manhole rings and covers, unhooked roof drains from the Roosevelt Rec Center and the Carnegie Library/Museum. replaced approximately 1,000 feet of collapsed sewer main, and began televising one-third of the city’s sewer system.
From July 2009 to December 2010 continued replacement of cracked or broken manhole rings and covers, and televising of another one-third of the sewer system. The city also implemented a program to disconnect approximately 600 known connections of roof drains to the sanitary sewer system. Capped floor drains at the old flower shop green house on Third Street. Replaced missing, collapsed, and broken mains found by televising, and replaced sewer mains, and taps, under Second Street, Third Street, and Fifth Street, in conjunction with street reconstruction at those locations. Disconnected roof and storm drains from the sewer mains at FALCO and Everybody’s market, and began small repairs at the treatment plant.
From March 2011 to December 2011 continued replacement of cracked or broken manhole rings, and covers, and televising of the remaining one-third of the sewer system. Began a program of flow monitoring, at various manhole locations, to calculate the average storm water infiltration to the system, continued to replace collapsed and missing sections of sewer mains, and contracted for the lining of one-half mile of salvageable sewer main.
From January 2012 to present the city has smoke tested approximately one-third of the system for cracked and broken mains not discovered by televising. Replaced approximately 800 feet of collapsed and missing sewer main from South Main Street to South D Street, installed a backup electric generation system at the treatment plant, and constructed a 1- million gallon sludge storage tank at the treatment plant.
Throughout all of this the city has cleaned the storm water system of storm debris, sand, gravel, leaves and lawn clippings. The city has also cleaned and removed sewer system clogs and backups at many spot locations. In total, the city has completed more than $7 million of repairs since 2008. These repairs have resulted in reduction of SSO’s by one-quarter of what was experienced prior to 2008. This means the amount of SSO’s during a one-half inch rain may not occur until a one- inch rain. All of this has been paid for through rate increases, one-quarter of the local option sales tax and an I-Jobs grant.
On July 17 the Utility committee will meet at 6 p.m. in city hall to discuss the next seven year phase of the sewer system repairs. This phase of repairs will cover the Sanitary Transmission and (overflow) Elimination Program, or STEP. The STEP program will begin repairs that cannot be completed by city forces or many small contractors. The time has come to pay for the largest repairs, such as our aging plant, and the eastern, southern, and western conveyance systems. These are several miles of sewer mains that are failing, overflowing, and damaging our environment. This needs to be done to meet federal (EPA) and state (DNR) mandates and will also allow our community in good conscience to consider ourselves environmentally friendly and sustainable. Please attend this committee meeting to gain a better understand why these increases are necessary. Our money has been, is being, and will be well spent for these very important wastewater projects.
Daryn Hamilton is the 5th Ward representative on the Fairfield City Council and chairman of the council’s Utility Committee.