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Projections indicate rate increase for sewer, water

NORTH LIBERTY– While city leaders were presented with a general fund budget that proposes to keep property taxes level for the next fiscal year, rate increases for city water and sewer services appear just as likely.
City Administrator Ryan Heiar told the council during a budget presentation last Tuesday, Jan. 17, that the city’s ASR well, which came online in spring 2010 to accommodate North Liberty’s growing population, brought with it a very expensive electric bill– about $350 per day to operate, in fact. In addition, stricter water testing regulations have also contributed to a swelling water department budget.
Heiar proposed a 12 percent increase to the base rate for water services. In addition to steeper expenses now, the city’s Capital Improvements Plan indicates major projects coming for the water department beginning in 2014, including potential water main upgrades, a new water plant, another water tower and ground storage facilities.
Also targeted for a rate increase is the city’s wastewater services. Heiar said that department is requesting some heavy equipment and a new storage building to house it, and anticipates needing very specific– and pricey– components to maintain operation of the plant’s membrane bioreactor. Twelve of the “membrane train modules” are estimated to cost around $92,000, and have a life expectancy of about 15 years.
If approved, residents would see an eight percent increase on their sewer bills.
A study is currently underway on the wastewater department and its facilities to determine future needs, a $33,800 base contract with Fox Engineering in October 2011.
Council members have time to consider the proposed utility increases, and are expected to conduct further discussion in two upcoming budget work sessions, the next of which is scheduled for Jan. 31. Comments about the proposed increases were minimal last week, but council member Coleen Chipman did offer one observation.
“I don’t know what’s worse; (implementing) the 12 percent or gradually increasing rates as we go along so it isn’t such a huge jump all at once,” Chipman said.
A final budget, including any proposed utility rate increases, must be approved by the council in time to certify it with the Johnson County Auditor’s Office by March 15. Heiar said he expects the public hearing on the budget to be held in late February.