By Mary Owen
A more than $2.2 million state loan has led to six pending increases in Aumsville sewer rates spread over the next three years.
The first fee hike of $3 will go into effect in December and show up in January water bills.
Subsequent increases of $1.50 will be applied every six months, beginning June 2011 and ending June 2013.
An annual 3 percent increase will go into effect in December 2013.
Current residential water/sewer utility bills are $57, of which $27 is applied to sewer.
Water bills were scheduled for a 3 percent cost of living increase, roughly 90 cents per residential customer, in December, but city councilors voted to skip that increase in an effort to minimize the impact of pending rate increases. The first reading of the proposed ordinance adopting the new sewer rates passed with a 5-2 vote on Oct. 11.
Large commercial sewer users will also notice a 10-cent consumption rate increase from 30 to 40 cents for each additional 1,000 gallons of water used over the 7,000 gallons included in the base rate.
“One of the hardest decisions for us to make is a rate increase,” Mayor Harold White said. “No one wants them, and it would be nice if rates could remain the same, but in the real world, it doesn’t work that way.”
According to White, in 1996 Aumsville began to seek grant money for a Wastewater Facilities Plan to project system improvements.
“We were successful, and it was completed in June 1999,” White said.
Consultants initially recommended to the city council a large expansion project that would have cost more than $5 million, increasing sewer rates per then-state-average by about $50 per month per customer.
Council members, however, decided to keep rates low by doing needed improvements and expansion in increments, using system development charges gleaned from developers hooking up to the city’s sewer system.
“We also used Sewer Improvement Fund money along with the SDCs to pay for the existing residents’ share of the incremental improvements and upgrades,” White said.
Aumsville could have opted for a bond measure, which would have significantly increased property taxes.
“We didn’t want to do that,” White said.
In 2005, the city borrowed from the state to cover the next phase of improvements, necessitating the pending rate increase to pay off the annual debt payment on the loan.
“As much as we hate increases, we are pleased that we have been able to delay them as long as we have,” White said. “We’re trying to make it as painless as possible by phasing the increases out over the next three years.”
Hopefully, new growth will generate more rate revenue to offset the $140,000 annual debt payment on the state loan, said Maryann Hills, city administrator.
“Staff is working hard to hedge against escalating operating expenses by re-evaluating the need of all expenses,” Hills said. “Council and staff understand how tight money is. We are facing it also in our city budget. The rate increases are absolutely necessary for the integrity and efficiency of our sewer system.”
White said city councilors and staff tried to be wise in planning for the city’s future sewer needs.
“For our major wastewater improvement, the city council decided to go to an effluent irrigation system which would meet the city’s need for an additional place for wastewater dispersal that would last for 20-30 years,” he said.
“The city purchased 78 acres of land several years ago for our future wastewater dispersal. The expansion of the system will help us maintain the integrity of the system, meet state and federal requirements and regulations, and the impact of new growth,” White said.
At present, Aumsville discharges waste water into Beaver Creek, but only from November through April, White said.
“With the irrigation system, we can discharge the effluent that we have been having to store in the lagoons from May through October,” he added.
Now in the major phase of its sewer expansion, White said Aumsville’s new lift station and construction of the sewer line to irrigation systems is complete.
“We still have irrigation equipment to get installed as well as site set up,” he said.
White, city councilors and staff believe the improvements and expansion will afford a good quality system that will serve Aumsville for years to come.