Thursday, November 27, 2014

City details 52 percent increase in sewer rates
Posted on Oct. 4, 2012 at 1:00 a.m.

ELKHART — The city of Elkhart has outlined a series of rate hikes over the next three years to help finance part of a federally mandated sewer overflow project.

In the next three years, residential customers will see their sewer bills rise $12.30, which represents a 52 percent increase in the average residential wastewater bill.

The mandated improvement project for the city’s wastewater infrastructure is expected to cost $134 million over 20 years.

The average residential wastewater bill is currently $23.51.

Residential customers will see a hike of $6.36 in 2013, $2.09 in 2014 and $3.85 in 2015, according to a statement issued by Mayor Dick Moore’s office Wednesday afternoon.

Sewer bills rose 85 cents in 2010 and 88 cents in 2011 for the same reason.

Moore said city officials have sought alternative state funding opportunities and worked to expand the customer base in an effort to minimize the financial impact on customers.

He also said his administration has tried to slow the process as the city continues to recover from the economic recession, the remnants of which have lingered since 2008.

“While these projects are unfunded federal mandates, they are the right thing to do to protect our rivers and return them as much as possible to their original state,” Moore said.

Revenues generated from rate hikes over the next three year years are expected to fund construction of projects totaling $21.3 million. Those include a sewer separation program that will include street improvements east of the Elkhart River along Middlebury Street. The design and construction of an 80,000-gallon pump and store facility near the city’s environmental center will redirect upward of 7 million gallons of sewage from entering the Elkhart River each year.

Other planned improvements include work at the wastewater treatment facility that will allow the city to treat an additional 20 million gallons per day during heavy rain events and the preliminary design of another million-gallon storage tank.

Moore first announced the hikes would be implemented earlier this year in the middle of a turbulent debate over whether to establish a monthly trash fee of $11.35 to offset falling property tax revenues and avoid severe budget cuts.

The upcoming rate hikes immediately became one of the reasons used by opponents to block the proposed trash fee, which would appear on the same bill.

The trash fee was rejected by the city council, but Moore has said he might seek to reintroduce a revised version.