MOUNT VERNON — In order to pay for improvements to the sanitary sewer system, City Council is looking to raise wastewater rates in each of the next three years. Rates would be raised 12 percent in 2009, and 11 percent in 2010 and 2011.
The city is looking at three main projects, totaling $14.2 million: an upgrade of the wastewater treatment plant at $12 million, the Kokosing interceptor sanitary sewer rehabilitation at $1.2 million and the Center Run sanitary sewer rehabilitation project at $1 million.
“The Water and Wastewater Commission recommended to City Council that the city raise the wastewater rates,” said Councilman Burt Hanson, chairman of the Utilities Committee. “We have been able over the last several years to fund the projects water and wastewater needed. But to do $14 million in renovation at the wastewater department and on some of the lines, we need to do this.”
According to Safety-Service Director Dave Glass, the minimum water and wastewater bill is $77.23 per quarter. This minimum rate applies to most seniors and two-person households. After the rate increases take effect, the minimum bill would be $88.68. Seniors would continue to receive a $1.50 reduction in their bills.
The average bill for a family is $115.24 per quarter; that would rise to $133.34. The increases would take effect April 1, and would appear on users’ July bill.
Glass pointed out the increase applies only to the wastewater portion of a bill, not the water portion.
“I personally feel very strongly that we have to do this ... It’s kind of tough to bite down on in this economy, to tell residents we are going to raise their sewer rates,” said Hanson. “It is an increase; we need the money. I think we can justify the expenditure.”
The last increase in wastewater rates was in the years 1990-93, when the plant underwent major improvements, including sludge handling and dechlorination. Prior to that, it was in the early 1970s.
City Auditor Terry Scott said the city has been operating under a 10-year plan in terms of wastewater improvements that need to be made, and has had a significant reserve balance in the wastewater account.
“We didn’t want to raise rates while having that reserve balance,” he said. “We try to pay cash if we can, but once we get to this kind of money ...”
According Scott, if there were no rate increase, the wastewater fund would be in the negative by more than $1 million in 2011.
“This allows for improvements ... this allows for maintenance, without coming right back in a few years with another large increase,” he said.
The $77.23 average minimum bill in Mount Vernon per quarter compares to $70.40 in Coshocton, $79.16 in Wooster, $68.70 in Zanesville and $123.48 in Fredericktown. Glass said Fredericktown just completed a major overhaul of its system.
The wastewater plant upgrade involves a total reconditioning of the system at the plant, including upgrades to the generator and the pump.
Council approved the design for the upgrade in 2008.
“That design is going to take a year to complete,” said Glass. “The project itself will take two years to complete.”
The Kokosing interceptor project involves rehabilitation of the main sewer that connects with downtown through Memorial Park.
Built in the early 1950s, the Center Run interceptor had a second major interceptor built in 1981. Glass said the city would likely abandon the old lines and move over to the new line.
The city will do the Kokosing interceptor and Center Run projects in 2010.
Scott said the interceptor projects will help with problems encountered at the wastewater plant.
In its legislative session, council gave a first reading to the ordinance, which would adopt the rate increases. Hanson encouraged any resident who has questions on the proposed ordinance to contact a council member or a member of the administration.