Needed sewer plant mandates rate increase

By CANDY NEAL
cneal@dcherald.com

HUNTINGBURG — A new wastewater plant will keep the city’s system in compliance with the state as well as handle new customers that want to connect in the future.

The Huntingburg Common Council is planning to move forward with getting the plant constructed. To help pay for that, wastewater rates will increase, though the increase will be spread out over two years.

If approved by the council, the first increase would be 8.5% in October, which would be reflected on the November bill. The next increase, 11.5%, would be in October 2021, and the last, 10%, in October 2022. The increase is being spread out over time to soften the impact for customers.

“No one likes a rate increase,” Mayor Denny Spinner said. “But we’re trying to put the least amount of increase right now.”

A study about flow issues at the wastewater plant was completed by Commonwealth Engineers earlier this year. It showed that the plant treats about 1.4 million gallons per day on average, with a peak flow of 2 million gallons per day. But when the plant exceeds the 2 million gallons per day, tanks are activated to store the excess flow. The intent is for the excess flow to be drained back into the plant for complete treatment and discharged to the plant’s ditch. But sometimes the plant exceeds the 2 million gallons per day for multiple days in a row, which exceeds the ability to store the additional flow.

The plant is consistently operating within what was designed to handle instances of overflow, and those instances are becoming more common. That problem has been noticed by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.

Huntingburg has been proactive over the years in its efforts to reduce the city’s inflow and infiltration into the system. But even with that work, the flow problem will likely continue, the study found.

Upgrading current facilities wouldn’t solve the problem because of insufficient space and the cost of upgrades would be much more expensive, Wastewater Superintendent Brad Coomer said. Building a new facility would be cheaper, and it could be expanded in the future when needed, he said. The estimated cost for the new plant is $19.7 million.

The state has determined that the average user uses 4,000 gallons or more a month. For those customers, their cost would increase from $49.19 to $53.35 in October, showing up with the November bill, $59.49 in October 2021 and $65.43 in October 2022.

The majority of Huntingburg’s customers, about two-thirds, use 3,000 gallons or less, Coomer said. The biggest grouping is the 782 customers who use between 2,000 and 3,000 gallons. Those using 3,000 gallons would see the cost increase from $42.85 to $46.48 in October, $51.83 in October 2021 and $57.01 in October 2022.

Huntingburg also has 558 customers who use less than 2,000 gallons. For the ones who use 2,000 gallons, the monthly cost would increase from the current $36.51 to $39.61 in October, $22.17 in October 2021 and $48.58 in October 2022.

By doing nothing, the wastewater plant could run the risk of discharging untreated water in the future, the study found. Also the city could be banned by the state from adding new customers in the future.

Officials sent an application to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture’s Rural Development to get funding through the USDA’s programs. The federal agency sent back a letter of condition that locked in a loan interest rate at 1.125% with a 40-year repayment plan. The agency has also allowed the city to refinance existing department debt under the low interest rate, which is more than 50% lower than the current rate for the existing debt. That savings helped to keep the rate increases lower than originally calculated, rate consultant Buzz Krohn of Krohn & Associates explained.

A public hearing concerning wastewater utility rates will be held at the beginning of the council’s next meeting. That meeting will start at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22, on the second floor of City Hall, 508 E. Fourth St.




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