Belleville leaders to meet with residents about sewer rate increases

News-DemocratSeptember 21, 2013 

— Meetings will be held on Tuesday and Thursday so Belleville city officials can inform residents about the impending sewer rate increases.

City leaders are discussing three options to pay for $127.3 million of upgrades to the city's sewer system required by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The sewer system expansion and overhaul is needed to prevent sewage backup into basements and prevent pumping waste into area creeks when the city gets heavy rain.

An August hearing to explain the three options -- all of which would about double residents' sewer bills over the next 10 years -- was sparsely attended by residents.

City officials hope more residents will attend the neighborhood meetings to learn more about how much their sewer bills will go up, and why, before officials pick one of the proposals.

Aldermen from Wards 3, 5 and 6 have organized a meeting for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Central Junior High library, 1801 Central School Road. The meeting is open to residents citywide.

Aldermen from Wards 1 and 2 are inviting their constituents to attend a regularly scheduled Pleasant Hill Neighborhood Association meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday to learn more about the increases.

Thursday's meeting will be in the basement of Christ United Church of Christ, 26 N. 14th St.

As part of the Pleasant Hill meeting agenda the same evening, Belleville Police Lt. Matt Eiskant will talk to residents about his role as a community police officer.

City Treasurer Dean Hardt and Wastewater and Sewer Plant Department Director Royce Carlisle will be at both meetings to answer questions.

Here are the options:

* Proposal One -- The city raises rates just to pay for current projects and not plan for future maintenance or build reserves for emergencies. This is the lowest increase proposed.

Residents would see 8 percent increases annually until 2022, have 6 percent increases for five years after that and then see 1 percent increases each year thereafter.

In this scenario, an average household of four -- which typically uses seven units of water -- would see its sewer portion of the bill go from $27.20 this year to $67.48 by 2025.

* Proposal Two -- The city raises rates to pay for current projects and build up the city's reserves for emergencies, but doesn't have money for future work.

Residents would see 8 percent increases annually until 2025.

In this scenario, an average household of four would see the sewer part of their monthly bill go up to $74.14 by 2025 and then level off.

* Proposal Three -- The city raises rates to pay for current projects, build up the city's reserves and store funds for future projects. This is the highest increase proposed.

Residents would see 8 percent increases annually until 2026 and then see 1 percent increases annually until 2046.

In this scenario, an average household of four would see the sewer part of their monthly bill go up to $74.14 by 2025 and continue to rise.

Hardt has said he recommends the third option because it builds up funds for future work. This means that residents will see gradual increases over the next 33 years instead of another substantial jump later on if the city needs to meet new federal guidelines or a new sewer issue arises.

According to the Illinois EPA, every city in the state with a combined sewer system has a long-term plan to bring those systems into compliance through upgrades.

When city leaders approved the plan, officials estimated sewer rates would go up about 3.5 percent annually for residents.

The last time the city increased sewer rates was May 1, 2010. Rates went up 3.5 percent each year from 2008 to 2010. Before that, rates were going up about 5 percent annually.

The city did not raise sewer rates for the past three years because of the downturn in the economy.

In 2008, the sewer rate for using four to 16 units -- which applies to the majority of households -- was $3.14 per unit; in 2009, it was $3.25; and in 2010, it became $3.36.

Residents' sewer costs are based on their water usage. The average household of four uses about seven units of water monthly. One unit is 750 gallons of water.

Contact reporter Jacqueline Lee at jlee@bnd.com or 239-2655. Follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/BNDBelleville.

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