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Marengo adopts sewer rate hike

January 20, 2010
The Marengo Town Council last Monday night voted 3-0 to approve the town's first sewer rate hike in 12 years.

The increase, which will go into effect in February and likely will first be seen on March bills, affects only the base rate. The approved ordinance calls for the base rate for those with a 5/8-inch meter, which is most of the town and virtually all residents, to increase from $12.05 to $18.05.

During a public hearing prior to the vote, Council President Tony Jones said the town is not changing the flow rate of $5.25 per 1,000 gallons.

"It's going to be the same as it was 12 years ago," he said.

The base rate will still be less than that of other towns in the county, Jones said.

Although the rate schedule goes up to a 6-inch meter, the largest in the town, he said, is 2 inches, which has a base rate of $154.34. However, even most businesses have just a 5/8-inch meter, he said.

David Mauck, a former member of the town council, asked if the town had commissioned a rate study and if issues with sludge at the plant were the reason for the increase. Jones answered no to both questions, saying the town simply cannot afford to maintain its wastewater system without additional revenue. He noted that as of Jan. 7, the sewer operating fund had a balance of just $6,403.

"Our expenses are much, much greater," he said.

Problems with sludge, coupled with an increase in utility costs and routine repairs, have drained the operating fund, Jones said. In addition, the town is still paying $26,850 annually on the USDA loan that was used to build the facility in 1982, as well as $7,200 on a State Revolving Loan, he said.

To be fair, Jones said, the council increased the base rate by 50 percent across the board, instead of by a set dollar amount.

"We just need an increase to cover our costs, and, to be honest, this is going to help, but it's not going to get us back to where we need to be comfortably," he said.

Resident Gary Robinson said the increase is inconsistent with a statement he said Councilwoman Tonia Elliott made in September at a hearing the town held regarding trash collection. He said when he asked Elliott at the time if there was going to be a sewer rate increase, she said she wasn't in favor of one.

"So, what's changed since September?" he asked Elliott.

"It's broke," she said of the fund for the wastewater system. "Everything's went up."

"In three months?" Robinson asked.

Elliott said she wasn't in favor of doubling or tripling the rates — and still isn't — but the sewer fund's expenses are more than its revenue.

Jones said that at one time the council was hopeful that changes at the plant, including applying for a wet permit for disbursement of the sludge, would help financially, but it has since learned problems still would remain.

"If there was any other alternative, I think we would entertain it," he said. "But the numbers speak for themselves. We're down to $6,400 operating."

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