CLINTON — Sewer rates for Clinton residents will be on the rise again after City Council members gave first approval of a 9.5 percent increase Tuesday.
The increase will bring the sewer rate from $8.18 to $8.96 per unit for residential customers.
Five of the six present council members voted in favor of the increase with At-Large Councilman John Rowland casting the dissenting vote. At-Large Councilwoman Jennifer Graf was absent.
Before council members could vote on the increase, two Clinton residents, Stewart Barr and Linda Ramsey, asked why their sewer bills would rise, and how the city got into the situation where the increases were necessary.
“My belief is it was a lack of responsibility throughout our entire city government; lack of communication, pure incompetence,” Barr said. “The question that has to be asked is ‘will the increase in sewer tax fix what has caused this problem?’”
The rate increase is part of the city’s plan to make the sewer fund financially solvent. A representative with the firm the city hired to examine the cash flow for the sewer fund originally called for a 25 percent increase to take place in January and another 15 percent increase for July, but the city was able to avoid the January increase and decrease the July bump. The plan as it currently stands is to increase rates by 9.5 percent for billing dates after July 1, which the council approved. Two more 9.5 percent increases also are on the horizon for July 2014 and July 2015.
Rowland pointed out how much sewer rates have already climbed in the past three years, which he pegged at 50.2 percent. In response to the citizens that asked council members why the rate increases are necessary, he called attention to Clinton’s largest capital project and the mandates from the DNR and EPA in the long-term control plan.
“It’s obvious, they built a sewer plant that cost an arm and a leg, and the question is too late now whether it was really needed or not because it’s done,” Rowland said.
Members of the City Council in April rejected the 9.5 percent increase, but after interim City Administrator and Finance Director Jessica Kinser told them what the consequences would be on the city’s long-term control plan, they reversed their decisions.
Kinser told council members that without at least a 9.5 percent increase, the city would not be able to pursue a $6.55 million state revolving fund loan. The city would be unable to pursue the loan because without the rate increase, it could not prove that it had the sufficient rates to meet the requirements of the state-revolving fund.
Without the loan, the city would not be able to complete the 25th Avenue North pump station project under the timeline mandated by the city’s long-term control plan.
By delaying the project, the city would face anywhere from $300,000 to $1 million in fines from the EPA and Attorney General’s office. The city also would risk a $150,000 fine for severing the already-approved contract with the project contractor.
Although other funding options such as a general obligation bond or using local option sales tax to fund the entire $7.5 million project were explored, the sewer increase was the only viable option, Kinser said.
The 9.5 percent increase will come before the council again for final consideration.