Utility committee supports rate hikes
Fairfield residents could be in for significant increases to their utility bills if the city council accepts the recommendation of the utility committee.
The utility committee of city councilors Jessica Ledger-Kalen, Daryn Hamilton and Tony Hammes listened to a presentation on the city’s sewer infrastructure by members of McClure Engineering Tuesday. In order to make the necessary repairs to the sewer infrastructure to stop the sewer overflows, the city would need to spend about $46 million in the next 17 years.
McClure Engineering recommended the city adopt a step plan whereby it would increase sewer rates substantially in the first year and then gradually reduce the rate of the increases.
The engineering firm suggested increasing the sewer rate 20 percent in the first year, Fiscal Year 2013, and then increasing it 10 percent each year for the following four years. In the final two years of the seven-step plan, sewer rates would only rise 3 percent.
The city’s water mains are also in need of repair, although that project will be considerably less expensive than the sewer project. The city will need to raise $6.2 million in the next seven years to cover capital improvements to its water system.
To do that, McClure engineering recommended hiking water rates 15 percent every year for four years.
McClure Engineering looked into how these rate increases would affect the average resident in Fairfield. The average residential household in the city uses 4,000 gallons of water per month and has a bill of about $70. That bill would rise to $83 per month under the firm’s proposal, and by 2019 the average customer can expect to pay about $127 per month in water and sewer charges.
If the city council approves construction schedule McClure Engineering recommends, the city will have reduced by 80 percent the volume of sanitary sewer overflows by 2020.
Utility committee chairman Hamilton said he and the other two members agree with McClure Engineering’s proposed schedule of rate increases. He said the only thing the three would like to add is one or two townhall meetings where the public could ask questions about the rates and the sewer improvements.
The committee agreed to meet again at 6 p.m. July 17 in city hall to discuss alternative options for financing the sewer improvements.
The committee does not plan to send the proposed rate increases to the council for a vote Monday. Hamilton said the only action he expects the council to take Monday is to vote on whether to sell $3.8 million in bonds to jumpstart the engineering work on the project.
“Once alternative finances are looked at, we can move ahead with rewriting the ordinance [on utility rates],” Hamilton said.
Hamilton said the ordinance will go through three readings at three council meetings, and the townhall meetings will probably occur between readings. He said the earliest he imagines the ordinance will pass is September, and for residents to see the new rates on their utility bills in October.
The general public is unlikely to notice the initial round of construction because it will be confined to the wastewater treatment plant. Once that is done, the city will repair the sewer main north of the plant and a manhole south of Lamson Woods.
Hamilton said the construction work will require the city to get easements on certain properties for which it does not have easements, and some people’s yards will be dug up. However, he said the city is probably two years away from that part of the project.
“There will be disturbances to the public, and it’s something the council needs to be sensitive to,” he said.