Fairfield Ledger
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Neighbors Growing Together | Apr 21, 2014

Utility committee supports rate hikes

By ANDY HALLMAN | Jun 06, 2013

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.

 

Comments (4)
Posted by: Kevin Heston | Jun 07, 2013 23:56

I though the whole purpose was to start on this sewer 6 years ago when the rates were being raised. Having a family pay $127/month is insane. In Burlington that is for 3 months not 1 month. Why doesn't the city plan better? You can't expect citizens to keep paying for your ineffective planning. Raising rates isn't the answer. What you fail to realize is you can continue to raise the rates all you want the citizens are growing tired of this bs and they have to have the ability to pay. Find the money elsewhere. Also it should have been dealt with years ago. Where has all the money went? The raises have to peak at some point and not have the ability to be raised. What, eventually is an average household going to pay $300/month? $600/month where does it end?



Posted by: Laura Miller | Jun 09, 2013 06:41

Why is there always money for green buildings, a civic center, swimming pool...I know it comes from another budget. The sewer system has been a problem for a long as I remember and the city planners have done nothing but delay and dump raw sewage into Crow Creek. Use the money you take from the people every day to make improvements rather than give yourselves raises. Live within your means. I hope this is in the why Fairfield is a great place to live video.

 



Posted by: Susan Alexander | Jun 15, 2013 16:37

All that money and they only expect to reduce the overflows by 80%? They happen constantly now so an 80% decrease still leaves frequent massive overflows. It's time to come up with a solution that resolves at least 95+% of the problem. 80% is unacceptable.



Posted by: Derik Wulfekuhle | Jun 17, 2013 11:51

The City's solution does actually remove all the SSO's, but must be accomplished in steps over time due to the expense in the construction efforts. The steps are taken with the most effective measures being on the front end, such as our facility and stormwater storage efforts in this first project. The improvements span 20 years on an estimated level. The City has never "pumped" raw sewage into a stream. The overflows are incidental to storm flows. We feel a tremendous reduction in the number of areas overflowing will occur in our initial efforts. The City's utilities did not even break even and were subsidized by taxes up until approximately 2010. The most recent rate increase is paying for the most recent project at the wastewater facility (sludge storage tank). Each rate increase is tied to an improvement and the debt abatement it will create. Even broadcasting out our entire 20 year repair period, we found that our rates will be equal to or lower than other local governments that are actually addressing their challenges. Across our nation on a daily level, local governments are taking on the challenge created by outdated infrastructure and receiving less federal funding to do so, meaning the costs of our local systems will be almost entirely born by our local ratepayers or taxpayers, depending on what type of improvement you are considering. Our lower federal tax structure and accompanying less aid to local and state governments has, in many cases, created  higher local and state fees and taxes in order to maintain an equal service level. I would encourage those who have anxiety about our efforts to attend our public meetings and enter the dialogue. Our elected officials display frank honesty and refreshingly real perspectives on these issues. None of us are taking this challenge lightly and we constantly weigh the consequences of our approach and our actions with the fiscal interests of our citizens. The next twenty years for many of us will resemble our grandparents' adulthood concerning fee and tax structures, as we attempt to rebuild the massive public systems they provided for us. Nothing about our early century, unfortunately, is going to be either cheap or easy for any community in our great nation.  

 

Kevin C. Flanagan 



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