Consultant Says Sewer Rate Could Go Up 23%; Council Aims For 12%

The sewer improvement project which is scheduled to go to bid next month could result in a 23% increase to the Crothersville Utilities sewer rate according to Christina Horan, a rate consultant with Umbaugh and Associates.
The looming sewer improvement project is a result of combined sewer overflow (CSO) order from the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM). Because of the design of the antiquated town sewer system and design of the treatment plant during heavy rainfall untreated sewage is dumped into Hominy Ditch below the sewer plant.
“We end up treating surface water which enters the sewer system and some of our sewage isn’t treated,” Crothersville Town Council President Ardell Mitchell said during last weeks town council meeting. ” We are under an IDEM order to clean up and treat more sewage.”
The town has an agreement with IDEM on how to solve the problem which entails removing surface water draining into the system. The majority of the surface water is a result of another state agency, INDOT, the Indiana Department of Transportation. Much of the water along US 31 south of Crothersville drains north and empties into the town combined sewer system. A plan is in the works to eliminate that surface water inflow, Mitchell said.
As a result of IDEM order the town will be beginning a multi million dollar sewer overhaul. The project will be paid for through a combination of a federal grant and a low-interest loan.
Repayment on that low interest loan is what will result in a local sewer rate increase,
With a 40-year loan amortization, Umbaugh is projecting sewer rates to go up by 23%. “For 4,000 gallons of use, the rate goes up $8 from $34.68 to $42.68 per month,” said Horan.
However, the council may mitigate that increase by not hiring a projected 4th town employee as planned and using surplus sewer reserve funds-money the town charges sewer users to pay for debt. The debt on the former sewer project was paid off several years ago but town leaders continued charging ratepayers the fee knowing that the CSO order was forth coming.
Another alternative is charging sewer customers the amount of money a private sewer operating company would pay in property taxes.
Mitchell summed up the creative accounting arrangement as “a way to tax the people without having a new tax.”
A council proposed 12% increase would mean an increase of a little over $4 a month. The council also proposed annual 3% increases thereafter to cover operating cost increases.
“Much of the probable increases is predicated on how the bids come in,” said the rate consultant.
Town engineer Brad Bender said bids on the project are scheduled to be opened on Thursday, Aug. 18.
Crothersville Clerk-Treasurer NaLona Bush later said that residents should not think that their total utilities bill will increase by 12%.
“The town utility bills reflect four charges: water usage, sewer, trash pick up and recycling,” said Bush. “While sewer is based on water consumption, it is only the sewer portion of the bill which would be increasing.”
In a related local utility concern, water superintendent Chris Mains pointed out that the interior town’s high tower (from whence local water pressure is generated) hasn’t been cleaned since it was installed in 1997.
“It is required to be inspected and cleaned every five years,” said Mains.
He presented three proposals for the cleaning. While the lowest proposal was for $2,750 from Leary Construction, with their plan the town’s high tower would have to be taken off line for two days and the town would have to purchase water from Stucker Fork Water Utility.
Mains recommended approving Liquid Engineering of Billings, Montana at a proposal of $2,975. “The high tower would remain in operation during the inspection and cleaning,” said Mains. “They use divers to inspect and clean the interior of the tank.”
A third proposal was from Kessler Tank for a price of $4,900.
The council approved entering into a contract with Liquid Engineering.
In other business, the state housing grant will allow the town to repair and upgrade up to 17 low income homes. The grant of $294,000 is intended to allow 15 homes up to $15,000 in repairs and two up to $10,000.
Repairs can include roof repairs, heating and cooling upgrades, energy efficient windows, foundation and structural repairs.
According to Debbie Flohr of ARa, the grant administrators, 24 applications have been received. The council approved work to the first four local homes at last week’s meeting.
In a final matter, the council asked town office workers for their opinions on how to best redesign the recently purchased former Methodist Church Annex for the new town hall office.
Those ideas are to be presented at the council’s August meeting.