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12/25/2012 11:55:00 PM
Open house will explain new water-sewer rates and fees
THE WILMINGTON CITY Council has invited the community to an open house on Jan. 2 to discuss a proposed new water and sewer service fees and an increase in the sewer rate. The council would like to explain why resident costs will go up.
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THE WILMINGTON CITY Council has invited the community to an open house on Jan. 2 to discuss a proposed new water and sewer service fees and an increase in the sewer rate. The council would like to explain why resident costs will go up.
The Wilmington City Council will hold an open house Wednesday, Jan. 2, to explain proposed increases on water bills coming in early 2013. The changes include the addition of at least $20 per month in base fees, regardless of the amount of water used, and the elimination of small debt service fees.

The new fee structure will ensure that the water and sewer systems are self supporting, and that revenues will sustain not only their operation but maintenance and future capital improvements.

The new structure is based on the recommendations of engineer HR Green following its review of the operation of the water and wastewater plants, their expenses and future needs. HR Green's projects assume no growth in the community for the next three to five years.

"They put these costs together to [ensure we can] maintain what we have going on; to maintain the plants, but also to pay the debts ... and at the same time, progressively build that rehabilitation fund," Mayor Marty Orr explained at a council Finance Committee meeting last week.

Currently, users of the city water system pay for water and sewer service based on a 3,000-gallon minimum billing. They pay $5.25 per 1,000 gallons of water used and $6.12 per 1,000 gallons used for wastewater treatment. There is also a $2 water debt service fee, a $2 meter replacement fee and a $4.94 wastewater debt service fee. Including the $19.26 garbage collection fee, the minimum monthly water bill is about $62.

City officials are discussing the potential for a 1,000-gallon minimum and also a billing system in which residents would pay only for the amount of water and wastewater service they actually use, with no minimum threshold. The meters record on a per-gallon basis, but it has not yet been determined if the billing software will be able to calculate a bill accordingly.

"We're pretty confident the system will read on a per-gallon basis, and I think we'll be able to say that by the Jan. 2 meeting," city administrator Tony Graff said.

While reducing or eliminating the minimum billing amount will trim the bills of about 400 of the city's 2,200 water customers, the savings will be offset by the institution of a $5 base fee for water service and a $15 base fee for wastewater treatment service. The base fees are intended to address future infrastructure repairs and upgrades, as well as to pay down the debts of the systems.

Included in those debts are the millions of dollars the city owes on its wastewater treatment facility. Each June and December, the city faces a $400,000 principal and interest payment. The first few payments were supplemented with funds the wastewater system had set aside for the purpose, and also money that was reserved for repairs, but those funds have been depleted.

City officials initially thought they would have to have a $30 to $35 wastewater system base fee to meet the debt obligation, and Graff said aldermen are still telling him they don't think the $15 fee will be sufficient, especially since it will be on water bills two months later than intended, which would put the loan payment fund about $65,000 behind.

"It's going to be a challenge to make that June payment," Graff said.

Graff said the aldermen are indicating they would support an initial $20 to $25 monthly wastewater base fee with no increases for the next couple of years, to start building the fund.

Orr urged the aldermen to consider instituting the fee at $15, which he admits is a change for the short term, and revisit the rates halfway through the next year.

"We need to make the base fee cover," said Alderman Frank Studer. "We need to do the math on where we need to be. Why do it half way and have to come back and adjust it a second time?"

The bill for a household using 1,000 gallons of water under the proposed fee structure would be $55.12, including the garbage collection fee that increases to $20.32 in May, the base fees and an increase in the sewer rate.

A household using 3,000 gallons would receive a bill for $79.20, including the garbage collection fee increase, the base fees and an increase in the sewer rate.

It is also possible that the water and sewer rates and the base fees will increase each year, to keep up with costs. A three-year projection shows the water rate at $5.61 per 1,000 gallons and the sewer rate at $8.76 per 1,000 gallons. The water base fee will climb to 5.36 while the sewer base fee will be $20.53 - provided it starts at $15 per month.

"If we don't get any growth, we're going to have increases every year, in regards to maintaining that debt service for the sewer," Graff commented.

The council does have some good news - it may be able to keep water rates stable with the repair of a leak on North First Street that is suspected of pouring 100,000 gallons of fresh water each day for years into the Kankakee River.

The council has not made any decision on what the future water and sewer rate and fees will be. The mayor and aldermen would first like the opportunity to explain to the public the challenges the systems face, and what those potential rates and fees may be.

The open house will be held at 6 p.m., in the council chambers at Wilmington City Hall, 1165 S. Water St. The rescheduled Jan. 1 meeting of the City Council will follow. The rate changes could be effective with the January meter reading.

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