Tuesday’s City Council workshop concerning sewer rates was an occasion might have been better preserved in video form – the lengthy discussion was very informative as it concerns the reasons for the city’s consideration of another sewer rate hike.
This will be the third sewer rate increase in since 2008; city utility customers saw their water and sewer bills increase in 2009, and sewer rates increased again in 2010. The workshop focus was a $15 increase in the sewer service charge effective in January 2014.
City sewer charges are comprised of two parts. The sewer service charge is a flat rate and currently $16.65 for residential customers and $42.58 for commercial/industrial users inside the city. Those rates are about 30 percent higher for the same user categories outside the city.
The second part is a sewer user charge — $2.49 per thousand gallons of water used for both residential and commercial customers. Again, the charge is higher for outside the city sewer customers.
The proposed rate hike would increase the residential sewer service charge to $31.65 per month, and the commercial sewer service charge to $80.97 per month. The charges for outside the city users would also increase.
The reasoning for the proposed increase is to fund $52 million capital improvement project involving primarily new utility system work largely centered on the sewer collection system.
Those who’ve followed Shreveport’s sewer system woes and the cost of repairs to that system will know that those costs are breathtakingly high. While Bossier’s system isn’t as old as the one across the river, it suffers many of the same deficiencies. And the problems with Bossier’s system are growing.
In addition to deteriorating lines and collapses, as explained by Manchac Consulting Group’s Justin Haydel, there’s a disparity in the amount of sewerage generated by utility users and that treated at the sewer treatment plants, as infiltration and inflow of ground water during rain events pumps up the volume.
Haydel said the point of this new work is to convey all waste water to treatment plants in an economic way and, importantly, keep that waste water in the system – as opposed to experiencing sanitary sewer overflows, which draw the attention of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). City Utility Department Director Jeffrey Anderson discussed his department’s preventative maintenance program, but described it as more often than not a “reactive” maintenance effort. And he also explained that over the last couple of year’s his department’s work has often become more reactive than proactive in maintaining the aging system’s components.
Notably, over the past several years that the City Council and Mayor’s office worked to secure funding for vast improvements to the utility system, the one element that’s been missing in that capital improvement undertaking is the waste water collection system.
The rate increase would allow for funding these improvements through a $30 million Louisiana DEQ 20-year loan at a .95 percent interest rate. The $22 million balance needed to fund the necessary projects would either be bonded, or paid from the increased utility revenues.
Another aspect of this funding plan is that it would allow the city to re-direct the annual transfer of $3.5 million in riverboat gaming revenues to the utility fund, a sum helping to pay for improvements such as the new south Bossier sewer treatment plant. Those gaming revenues would then be freed up to help generate new sales taxes – which are the city’s chief revenue source.
Council member David Montgomery reminded workshop attendees that over the last several years, the revenue stream from the riverboat gaming has been used to increase the city’s sale tax revenues through such developments as Louisiana Boardwalk and the Sterling Center.
“What we have to look for is how to provide the incentives – water, sewer and roads – to generate those additional funds. Right now … it’s imperative that we recapture that $3 million and put it back in the stream … to ensure development of future revenues and growth.”
No one likes to pay more for city services. The alternative, however, is to watch the waster water system continue to deteriorate and then pay the higher cost of EPA intervention and massive improvements. Expect City Council members to introduce a measure to increase the sewer service charge at next week’s meeting – and adopt the ordinance at their first December meeting.
Marty Carlson is a columnist for the Bossier Press-Tribune. She may be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org