Duluth water rates holding tight, but sewer rates will increase 10 percentA cold glass of Duluth tap water won’t cost more in 2012 after all, although flushing the toilet will, after action Wednesday night by city’s Public Utilities Commission.
By: John Myers, Duluth News Tribune
A cold glass of Duluth tap water won’t cost more in 2012 after all, although flushing the toilet will, after action Wednesday night by city’s Public Utilities Commission.
Commissioners were expected to raise water rates, based on how much the home or business used, by 19 percent starting in February.
But that proposal was dropped in favor of shifting a sewage surcharge into the city’s water account.
That surcharge, a flat fee of $3.21 per month set to expire at the end of this month, will now come off every sewage bill in the city and instead shift over to the water bill starting in February — a net wash for homes and businesses.
The amendment was proposed by Jay Fosle and Patrick Boyle, Duluth city councilors who also serve on the utilities commission. Fosle said the proposed 19 percent increase would have hurt large water users too much.
“It’s something they are already paying. It’s not going to be a burden to keep paying the $3.21,” Fosle said.
Shifting the $3.21 surcharge will increase money available for city water projects — replacing old water mains, pump stations and repairing reservoirs — by about $1 million per year, according to city staff. That’s down from the $1.8 million the city would have received if the volume-based water rates had increased.
“We’re going to look at this as a positive step and not focus on what we aren’t getting,” said Eric Schaffer, chief engineer for Duluth Public Utilities, after the vote. “Any increase in funding we get to help make progress replacing water mains and booster stations is a positive step.”
The utilities commission vote is final, although the Duluth City Council could veto the increase if six of the nine city councilors vote to repeal it.
While the commission rejected a water rate increase, it did approve a 10 percent sewage rate increase, which also takes effect Feb. 1. It will increase the user charge from $5.02 to $5.52 for small users and from $13.74 to $15.11 for the largest users. The increase will bring in $1.5 million per year for the city to continue upgrading the sanitary sewer system known for its leaks and overflows. That increase will more than make up for losing the sewage surcharge now going to water.
The commission, composed of councilors and citizens, voted 6-1 in favor of the sewage increase, with Fosle voting no.
Schaffer has noted that more than half of the city’s water mains are 80-plus years old, and at least 50 percent of Duluth’s sanitary sewer system is equally antiquated. The city is now responding to about 150 water main breaks per year, about twice as many as a decade ago. City staff estimates that repairs and leaks now cost the utility about $2.3 million each year.
Supporters of upgrading the water system said the city should ideally be replacing at least 4.2 miles of water pipe each year at an annual cost of an additional $4 million to catch up on repairs.