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Lebanon consider 6 percent sewer fee hike
Mar 11, 2005 12:00 am
A Lebanon city sewer rate increase of 6 percent is one option on the table as city councilors wrestle with funding a $30 million-plus overhaul of the system to in part satisfy state government's environmental concerns.
Though a plan to pay for state-mandated improvements to the city's sewer system has not been adopted, Lebanon Finance Commissioner Hal Bittinger said Monday annual rate increases are a viable funding mechanism.
A report released last week by the city's Public Works Committee cited an estimate from wastewater consultant Water Management Services LLC which indicated the city would need to spend almost $16.5 million over the next five years to comply with an order issued last year by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.
The public works report also proposed a handful of multimillion projects aimed at expanding the availability of city sewer, upgrading the municipal system and updating the system for drinking water. In all, the plans surpassed the $30 million mark.
Addressing a contingent of city officials during a Lebanon Finance Committee meeting Monday, Bittinger said the city could generate $32.5 million over the next five years with annual rate increases of 6 percent. Bittinger stressed the plan was not a formal proposal but rather "an example" of how improvements could be funded.
"Over the course of the five years, you're talking (an increase of) $15 or $16," Bittinger said of the plan.
Ward 6 City Councilor Kathy Warmath inquired as to whether the plan included funds for an increase in sewer capacity to serve new development in the city.
"It is probably going to take them a year or two to get going on these projects with the inflow problem," Bittinger responded, noting the city would need roughly $500,000 annually to accommodate new development.
Public Works Commissioner Jeff Baines stated the city had never raised rates in order to expand the system in the past.
"Nobody wants to raise rates. Let's be honest," Baines said. "We've only raised rates for specific types of projects. We've never raised rates simply because we needed to raise rates to expand. Every state report and everything will tell you, you should do that on some kind of regular basis. I've been here 15 years, and it's never been done."
Baines added city workers are making great strides in their inspection of the city's sewer system, but noted the public works department needs additional personnel to thoroughly review the entire system.
To partially address the need for additional manpower, Baines said he will likely seek an increase in the contractual services line item in his budget for the upcoming fiscal year. He said the move would allow a contractor to conduct additional smoke tests on city sewer lines this summer.
Finance committee members made no decision regarding the example funding strategy described by Bittinger on Monday, but the topic is to be further discussed at the March 28 Lebanon Public Works Committee meeting.
"The bottom line is we're going to have to propose something," Warmath said.
Staff Writer Brian Harville can be reached at 444-3952 ext. 16 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.