Stage set for wastewater rate hikes, upgrades

ESCANABA — A presentation during a special public hearing held at the Escanaba city council meeting Thursday set the stage for upgrades at the Escanaba Water Plant — and for annual wastewater rate increases for the foreseeable future.

During the public hearing, which was required for the city to be able to qualify for State Revolving Fund loan money, Chuck Lawson, of Escanaba-based architecture and engineering firm C2AE, presented the plan for the project.

Repairs and upgrades at the plant will be broken into two phases, only the first of which will be eligible for SRF loan money. This phase will include upgrades to and replacement of many of the components necessary to process raw sewage, as well as the construction of a new storage and maintenance garage, improvements to the administration building, and structural, safety, and aesthetic upgrades.

“We completely agree aesthetics is second place, however, this brick has been absorbing water for years, it penetrates deep into the brick, it falls and it’s falling off. It’s also penetrating through the block and into the building, so it is aesthetic but it also has a purpose to seal the buildings and keep their integrity,” said Water and Wastewater Superintendent Jeff Lampi.

In total, based on a 20-year debt service on a bond for the project at 2.5 percent interest, the first phase of the project will cost the city $13,470,000. Of that, $10,361,00 is earmarked for construction and equipment upgrades, and a total of $3,109,000 is budgeted for administration, engineering, contingency, and legal costs.

The second phase will raise the cost of the project by $6,091,000 and includes upgrades and vehicle purchases not eligible for SRF money.

For Phase 1, the project plan indicated a 13.5 percent rate increase on both the availability charge and wastewater rate needs to be implemented annually for the budget years of 2019-2020, 2020-2021, and 2023-2024. After that point, a 2.25 percent annual increase would need to be implemented permanently.

The project numbers and timeline differs from increases discussed at past meetings about water and wastewater rates. During those discussions, Lampi told residents and the council a 20 percent increase in wastewater fees was necessary for three budget cycles — 2019-2020, 2020-2021, and 2021-2022 — to pay for costs associated with upgrades at the plant. While the proposed 20 percent rate increase would be used to pay for the project as a whole and not just Phase 1, there was no discussion of a permanent 2.25 percent annual rate increase.

The first of the 20 percent rate hikes was approved Monday during a special city council meeting. The increase brings the cost of wastewater to $3.94 per thousand gallons, based off water metering, plus the monthly availability debt service charge assessed to properties. The service charge varies based on the size of the water service, and ranges from $9.34 for the smallest service lines to $466.12 for 12-inch service lines.

In 2018, the monthly service charge for sewer ranged from $7.78 per month to $388.43 per month.

Following Lawson’s presentation and a brief public comment period, the council voted to close the public hearing and close the project plan to comments so it could be submitted to the state.

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