Rate increases until 2047: Belleville council OKs hikes in sewer bills

News-DemocratDecember 2, 2013 

— The Belleville City Council voted 12-4 on Monday to approve sewer rate increases for residential and commercial customers.

The proposed ordinance would more than double residents' bills in the next 12 years and dictate rate increases until 2047.

The new rates will apply to bills starting Dec. 16.

City leaders have said for months that rate increases are unavoidable.

The increases will be used to pay for $127.3 million in upgrades to the sewer system to satisfy federal Environmental Protection Agency requirements.

The upgrades will address sewage backup into basements and sanitary sewer overflow.

Belleville also needs to eliminate combined sewer overflow -- dumping sewage mixed with water into creeks -- and instead route the discharge to the plant.

And the city continues to work on expanding its sewer plant by 4.4 million gallons to handle 12.4 million gallons for future city growth.

City officials proposed three options to raise rates and spent the latter half of this year meeting with residents to explain the options.

On Monday, aldermen approved the costliest option, which the majority agreed would pay for the required projects, plan for future sewer maintenance work and build up the city's reserves for emergencies.

Aldermen who voted no were: Ward 2 Alderwoman Melinda Hult, Ward 3 Alderman Kent Randle, Ward 7 Alderman Trent Galetti and Alderwoman-At-Large Lillian Schneider.

Ward 5 Alderman Joe Hayden said the city does not have a choice in this situation because the sewer upgrades are federally mandated and it's the responsible thing for the city to do for its residents.

Hayden said he voted for the costliest option because he believes it places the city in the best position not to "go back to the well down the road."

Hayden cautioned that the approved rates are projections based on many variables. But, barring new requirements from the EPA or emergency sewer work, for example, the city should not have to ask taxpayers for other steep increase in the near future.

Belleville Mayor Mark Eckert said he agreed with Hayden's sentiments.

Randle said he voted against the costliest proposal because of the 8 percent increases per year for the next 12 years. He said the majority of Belleville residents will not get salary increases that will allow them to keep up with such increases.

Schneider and Galetti agree with Randle's reasoning about the rates being too steep.

Schneider said the city should not have suspended rate increases during the recession. The city last raised rates in May 2010.

Galetti said after the meeting that city officials should have increased rates years ago knowing the upgrades were necessary, instead of doubling rates in such a short timespan. He also thought city officials should have negotiated more with the EPA on some of the work and for more time.

"I would have liked to see a little more push back on our part," Galetti said.

Hult said after the meeting she would have voted for rate increases, since the upgrades are mandatory, if the proposal was for a shorter term.

"It ties people's hands for too long," Hult said. "I can't agree to raise rates for that many years."

How would your bill change this year?

Sewer bills are determined by water usage, which is measured in units.

Most Belleville residents use four to 16 units of water each month.

Right now the rate for customers using between four to 16 units is $3.36 per unit. The increase would bring the rate to $3.63 per unit.

And, the monthly minimum flat charge would go from $5.51 to $5.95. This is a fee every residential customer pays regardless of units of water used.

A household of four uses about seven units of water per month.

Under the existing rates, a residence using seven units of water pays about $29.03 on the sewer portion of the bill each month. With the increases, the new bill would be $31.36.

How would your bill change in 12 years?

The proposed ordinance also calls for 8 percent increases to the sewer rate each year and increases to the monthly minimal charge, which is a base fee, each year until 2025-26.

This means that sewer bills will go up every year and by the 12th year, sewer rates for residential properties in the four-to-16 units range would pay $9.16 per unit and a flat monthly fee of $15.

A household using seven units of water would pay $79.12 per month by 2025.

How would your bill change in 33 years?

From the years of 2026-27 to 2046-47, the ordinance calls for 1 percent increases to the sewer rate and increases to the monthly minimal charge.

By 2047, sewer rates for residential properties in the four-to-16 units range would pay $11.29 per unit and a flat monthly fee of $18.48.

A household using seven units of water would pay $97.51 per month in 2046.

How will commercial rates change?

For the next year, commercial properties will see their monthly base fee go from $8.56 to $9.24. Commercial properties also will see increases of 8 percent per year until 2026 and 1 percent increases thereafter until 2047.

The rate this year will be $3.18 for one to 19 units of water; $3.05 for 20 to 99 units; $2.97 for 100 to 499 units; and $2.84 for 500 units and more.

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

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