Huntington Common Council hears proposal to restructure sewage fees

Huntington residents who use very little water could see a significant increase in their sewage fees under a proposal that restructures how those fees are figured.

The proposal was introduced to members of the Huntington Common Council during their meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 31. In addition to the restructuring, the council was also asked to consider increasing rates to pay for an ongoing project designed to keep raw sewage from flowing into the rivers.

Two components of that project — state-mandated work that began in 2008 and is slated to continue through 2026 — slated for construction in 2018 will require additional funding over and above the $10 million bond previously approved by the council, the council learned from Anthony Goodnight, director of public works and engineering services.

The first of those projects involved adding a third pump at the Rabbit Run lift station, located just east of the Huntington County Fairgrounds. That lift station carries all the water from the south side of Huntington to the river.

“It’s imperative that those pumps work in extreme conditions and it’s imperative that those pumps work every time,” Goodnight said.
Having three pumps and a backup generator will make sure that happens, he said.

Stormwater and wastewater sewers in an area east of Jefferson Street, between the railroad and the Little River, is also scheduled for 2018. Once the lines are separated, stormwater will be directed to the river, keeping it out of the treatment plant.

At the same time, State Street will be repaved, new curbs and sidewalks will be built and a trail connecting the Erie Rail Trail bridge to Market Street will be constructed.

The council voted on the first of two required readings to increase the amount of the bond to $14 million.

The bond will be paid off with revenue the city receives from sewage fees paid by city residents.

Jeff Rowe, of the Umbaugh consulting company, said the bond repayment could be structured in one of two ways — making an equal payment each of 20 years, which would require a larger rate increase for individual customers but result in significant interest savings of the city; or initially paying just the interest on the bonds and wait to pay on the principal until the city’s current outstanding bonds are paid off. The second option would cost more in interest, Rowe said, but would lessen the rate increase for individual users.

No decision was made, but Mayor Brooks Fetters said he preferred the first option.

Rowe also presented a proposal for changing the way sewage fees are structured. The current fees are based primarily on stepped levels of water usage.

Under the proposed restructuring, the fees would be based on the true cost of service by establishing a larger base fee reflecting the fact that the bulk of the costs is in the collection system, not the treatment system.

Under that system, a residential customer currently paying the minimum sewage fee of $14.38 a month would see that fee jump 73 percent to $24.88.

A customer using what is considered the average of 4,000 gallons of water a month would see a 28 percent increase in sewage fees, from $44.88 a month to $57.64 a month.

Large volume industrial users would see their sewage rates increase by 16 to 17 percent.

The council will hold a public hearing on the proposed rates during its Nov. 14 meeting. Once bids for the project are received, the proposed increases could be adjusted to reflect actual costs.

Also Tuesday, council members gave final approval to a curbside recycling program and annexation of an area including Horace Mann Elementary and Riverview Middle schools.

The council approved on first reading an ordinance that would give the mayor the option of increasing the number of members on the Board of Public Works and Safety from three to five.