Juneau homeowners will see bigger sewer bills under rate hikes approved by the Juneau Assembly on Monday.
The Assembly approved a $2-a-month increase in residential sewer rates starting Aug. 1, with another $2 monthly increase next summer. The new rates would be $37.50 a month this year and $39.50 a month next year.
City Public Works Director Ernie Mueller said the sewer budget is facing a $330,000 deficit this coming year without the rate increases.
Higher city sewer costs are tied to debt service, capital improvements, employee wage increases, new permit and monitoring requirements, and repair of aging systems, he said.
Assembly members Dale Anderson and Marc Wheeler voted against the rate increases.
City Manager Dave Palmer said the city is under pressure to expand water and sewer services as standards get tighter and tighter.
The Assembly voted down an amendment that would have increased rates $1 a month this year and $2 next year. Wheeler offered the proposal, suggesting the city could recoup about $100,000 in legal fees paid to Wastewater Utility Superintendent Andrew Bronson. Bronson is scheduled to be sentenced in federal court in Anchorage on Wednesday for diluting samples at the Mendenhall Wastewater Treatment Plant in 1998.
Assembly member Ken Koelsch disagreed with that approach, arguing that the city should opt for a straightforward rate increase.
"I don't want to preface this with a maybe return on somebody's lawsuit," he said. "We need water and sewer in this community. We pride ourselves on being a healthy community and I don't think this is outlandish."
Because the city operates two large and one small secondary wastewater treatment plants, its capital and operating costs are higher than other communities in the state that operate primary treatment plants, Mueller said.
"We're required to treat waste to a standard that other communities do not," he said.
Sewer rates went up $2 a month in Juneau in 1999 and $1 a month in 2000.
During public comment, Don Kussart suggested the city stop charging sales tax for sewer services. His monthly utility bill now tops $61 and would jump to $65 a month under the new rates, he said.
"That's a pretty good chunk of money," he said.
Anderson also voiced objections to charging sales tax on city services. The city doesn't need to automatically expand sewer services to keep pace with Juneau's sprawl, he added.
In the near future, the city plans to replace the outfall structure at the Mendenhall plant, make improvements to the Lemon Creek collection system and replace or repair a downtown main to the Juneau-Douglas Treatment Plant. Additionally, the city wants to replace the disinfection system at the Mendenhall plant, according to the public works department.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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